Express Review: Love, Lies (2016)

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I’ve watched a sh*t-ton of movies over the past few weeks (ok, months, years, decades) thought I’d review a few, one at a time. One particular one I wanted to promptly write about was Love, Lies.

I watched this because I adore, adore, adore Cheon Woo-hee and was so proud of her seeing her at Cannes film festival last summer. She’s brilliant. I’m sure if you haven’t seen her in last year’s critically acclaimed The Wailing you’d atleast remember having had seen her in the 2011 hit Sunny (hint: glue-sniffer).

I actually had to quit watching The Wailing around its halfway mark due to some really gross scenes (I’m a complete wimp — legit). I’ll come back to it sometime because I’m still very curious. I just need to toughen up. The next choice for that night was Love, Lies. Now I was really hesitant about this one mainly because of its other castmembers; Han Hyo-joo (major intolerance!) and Yoo Yoon-seok (whose character and performance in Reply 1994 grated on me).

But it was either this or The Wailing for me, the ultimate Cheon Woo-hee stan. Alas, wimpy me trumped snobby me and Love, Lies it was.

This is a love triangle but not the typical, predictable kind I had previously imagined. (Because Miss Cheon is in it and she never lets me down.)

The film opens up in 1930s Seoul, back when Joseon/Korea was under Japanese colonial rule and So-yul (HHJ) and Yeon-hee (CWH) meet as little girls in a Gisaeng institute. Both grew to be the closest of friends and confidantes. Both very gifted as singers with slightly differing styles and penchants — a detail which becomes a pivotal part of the film later.

There is distinction between the gisaeng at this institute. The madam of the gibang (Jang Young-nam) differentiates by explaining how the more gifted gisaeng are but valued and celebrated artists while lesser gisaeng are basically prostitutes — and that our leading ladies luckily fall into the more distinguished category. That may or not have been the entire truth, however, after all what freedom of choice does a gisaeng really have? Anyway.

Enter our dashing leading man, Yeon-woo. Not only is he So-yul’s sweetheart he’s also a musical genius, a virtuoso (of course) wooed by So-yul’s extraordinary singing capabilities and he awakens within her many dreams.

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And this is particularly the catalyst that sets our story in motion. It’s brilliant because Kim Yoon-woo isn’t only a musician per se. His pursuit for a voice for his songs is based on a wider agenda, particularly in a desperate period of hopelessness and the stifled, suppressed voices of a colonised country.  Yoon-woo is that hungry, ‘tortured soul’ in search of ”the heart of Joseon”. The definition of which, he discovers, is interchangeable.

His change of course isn’t exactly a seam-free one and it dubs him a liar and a betrayer and spurs a very tragic chain of events. And really, some of the covert machinations that ensue are reminiscent of those which take place among the concubines in historical dramas like Legend of Zhen Huan.

And let me just say, the climax of this film hurts. It hurts like hell!

This film is beautiful, not only aesthetically (seriously it has the most stunning cinematography and convincing set design), but in its scriptwriting and execution from director Park Heung-shik and shockingly enough, also because of the superior level of acting from all involved.

Yes, gasp! Even Han Hyo-joo. Did she break down a fourth wall and become an actress I can suddenly love? Nah. But she was good in this, she really, really tried and it paid off.

I would say a lot, A LOT, hinged on our leading man and he delivered. Had Yoo Yoon-seok proven to be any less of an actor this whole story would’ve tanked. The character was played with an astute seriousness without feeling stuffy and unnatural and with the perfect balance of raw masculinity, strength and sensitivity requisite of a man gravely affected by the politics of his time and yet also a man of the arts.

Not every mechanism of his mind was laid bare for us in the audience to see and I for one am glad not everything needed to be explained. Besides, hey, some things were already present in the subtext and that to me, added to the beauty of the film.

And now my fave! She was absolutely mesmerising! Magical. Luminous. A scene stealer! Everything a true starlet should be. Han Hyo-joo had to try and try some more but not Cheon Woo-hee, she’s just born with it. A Natural God Given Gift. I never felt more proud. After a series of playing offbeat (but critically acclaimed nonetheless) characters it was refreshing to see her attempt the role of a leading lady worthy of winning someone’s romantic interests, just for once. Just because she could — and she did.

Her character became increasingly elusive towards the end while Han Hyo-joo took all central focus but I was ok with that too because that made her even more endearing a character, one who you (and other characters in the film) could only yearn to see more of.

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Some argued the tragedies that constituted the story may have been ”Yeon-hee’s fault”, Some may argue that they were ”Yoon-woo’s fault” for being a man, a sleazebag who dared to come between friends. On the contrary I would argue they were all So-yul’s fault — what a selfish, evil person! But really? They were all selfish, they were all so cruel — and in love. An unapologetic, searing love that none of them felt any remorse for. Things were bound to go wrong.

And now to close it with some OST music to whet your appetites with the title song ‘Love, Lies’ brilliantly performed by Han Hyo-joo herself. I have to hand this one over to Han. Both ladies sang their own songs for this movie and displayed incredibly impressive vocals but Han Hyo-joo impressed me slightly more. This song is stunning!

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