Lurking beneath the pretty getup, however, are the ugliness of unbridled jealousy and its destructive power.
The story begins at a school of sorts that trains girls in the art of being a “gisaeng” -- women who entertained male guests with song, dance and poetry. So-yul, played by Han Hyo-joo, is the beautiful daughter of the institution’s headmistress, who herself is a renowned gisaeng. Always at the center of attention and yearned by men for her beauty, So-yul dreams of one day becoming an accomplished entertainer.
|Han Hyo-joo in “Love, Lies” (Lotte Entertainment)|
A new girl, Yeon-hee, played by Chun Woo-hee, arrives at the school when her father, unable and unwilling to care for her, sells her off. The two girls soon become best friends, with So-yul’s cheerfulness rubbing off on the disheartened Yeon-hee, who is likened to a “prickly flower.”
The film is set during the later years of the Japanese occupation, a period of turbulent evolution in Korean music. Tradition and modernity clash in the form of jeong-ga, traditional Korean songs, and early Korean pop, influenced by American jazz and Japanese enka. The girls are in awe of the newly emerging genre, though their profession does not allow it.
Meanwhile, So-yul becomes acquainted with the dashing, mercurial songwriter Yoon-woo, played by Yoo Yeon-seok, who enchants her with his modern ideas, reverence of her beauty and promises of love.
|Yoo Yeon-seok in “Love, Lies” (Lotte Entertainment)|
Conflict erupts one day when Yoon-woo hears Yeon-hee sing. He becomes mesmerized by her voice, more charged with emotion and pain than So-yul's ever was. He decides to write a song for Yeon-hee and help her debut as a pop singer. So-yul is gripped with an intense jealousy that ends up destroying those around her and, above all, herself.
“Love, Lies” addresses several themes, and one of them is the duality that was thrust upon gisaeng, who were expected to be elegant and well educated in the arts while also a source of pleasure to men. Though the gisaeng in the film pride themselves as being of noble mind, if not social status, the arts they learn ultimately serve to perfect the art of seduction.
“Gisaeng are like flowers that can understand human speech,” So-yul’s mother tells her, echoing their depiction as something between human and objects of beauty. Later on, she adds: “We’re flowers meant to be picked by men who grant our wishes.”
|Chun Woo-hee in “Love, Lies” (Lotte Entertainment)|
The jealousy that grips So-yul, however, is painfully human. Han Hyo-joo seems somewhat strained in her portrayal of So-yul in her cheery, naive stage, but her depiction of the character as a woman wronged is much more convincing.
“I was surprised at myself,” Han said at a press conference Monday in southern Seoul. “I didn’t know there was that side of me. I didn’t know my face could look like that. It was a new challenge in terms of acting, and it was very painful.”
Han shows, step by step, the maniacal depths to which a woman entirely accustomed to being admired can sink when stripped of her admirer. So-yul possesses a pristine beauty that is utterly charmless, while Yeon-hee, new to the spotlight, is carefree yet captivating. So-yul is unable to understand. All she knows is the envy that consumes her, and she refuses to let it go. “You made me like this,” she tells her former friend. “Love is a lie,” she says to her former lover.
“I wanted to concentrate on that universal emotion, jealousy,” said director Park Heung-shik, who previously directed last year’s “Memories of the Sword.”
“When you envy someone’s talent, it becomes uncontrollable. ... You shouldn’t lose yourself, but that’s what So-yul did. Everything in the movie is working toward that point.”
“Love, Lies” will open in local theaters on April 13.
By Rumy Doo (email@example.com)