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‘Innocent Thing’ goes mad on screen

Actress Jo Bo-ah memorable as troubled, seductive teen

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Published : 2014-04-07 20:32
Updated : 2014-04-07 20:40

Although filmmaker Kim Tae-gyun says his latest film is an exploration of love, it’s very hard to agree with him.

Titled “Innocent Thing,” the film is about a former athlete and married school teacher (Jang Hyuk) whose life is destroyed ― literally ― after he falls for one of his students. Yet it’s unclear if he ever “loves” her throughout the film, which is filled with horror and madness.

Playing the troubled, seductive teen is actress Jo Bo-ah, inspired by Hollywood actress Amanda Seyfried’s performance as the manipulative young woman in 2009 erotic thriller “Chloe.” Jo’s character, Young-eun, does show some resemblance to Seyfried’s Chloe: the blank stares, the innocent-looking face and, at times, a maturity that’s advanced for her age.

Although it’s hard to agree that this film is about love ― the characters are too troubled to be in love ― and the film itself fails to be compelling, “Innocent Thing” does an interesting, although not always convincing, job of depicting multilayered characters, including the protagonist and those who surround her. 
A scene from “Innocent Thing.” (Invent Stone)

Young-eun, who constantly sucks on a straw like a baby, drinking her one and only favorite drink ― strawberry milk ― while dressed in a rather tight school uniform, is the illegitimate child of a chaebol owner. She lives in a spacious, luxurious apartment by herself, while her middle aged cook and caregiver seems to be fed up with her and quits.

It seems the teenager has been searching for a bond with a mother figure. In the beginning of the film, she approaches her gym teacher Joon-gi, whom she has a crush on, asking him to buy her strawberry milk. She mistakes Joon-gi’s lust for love, becomes obsessed with him, descends into uncontrollable madness and has a phantom pregnancy.

Joon-gi, on the other hand, does not have much interest in teaching. He’d rather be a rugby coach, although this would not guarantee a stable income. His dutiful and pregnant wife, Yoo-jin (Sun Woo-sun), pressures him to “give up what he likes to do” and “do what he has to do” instead.

It was his in-laws who got him the teaching job at the all-girls high school, where he is the object of desire ― and even sexual harassment ― rather than an authority figure. Young girls constantly fight for opportunities to make physical contact with him. In one scene, when he gives a demonstration of how to do CPR with one of the students, the girl kisses him and makes a victory sign, while rest are clearly jealous.

Just as crazy as Young-eun is inarguably Yoo-jin, who at first comes across as a gentle and wise wife. It is subtly revealed later that she tricked Joon-gi into marrying her by faking a pregnancy. When she realizes Young-eun is a threat, Yoo-jin makes surprisingly inhumane decisions to protect her marriage, which in fact started with a lie.

In spite of the interesting character development, however, the movie fails to be a solid thriller. Many scenes are more ridiculous than suspenseful, as it is almost impossible to empathize with the film’s narrative. It is hard to understand why the characters do what they do, especially when the movie ends. The things we do know about them ― Young-eun’s chaebol family and loneliness, Joon-gi’s unhappiness at work, and Yoo-jin’s selfishness ― do not help us relate to them at all.

“Innocent Thing” opens in theaters on April 10.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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