Sometimes films just don't hit their intended mark. Green Chair, a South Korean film from 2005, wants to be a psychological sex drama with political overtones, but rather than reaching any serious level of understanding, it barely skims the surface of what it could be about.
Director Park Chul-soo, who previously courted controversy with his film 301/302, sets out to challenge the seemingly nonsensical age of consent laws in his country. A child becomes a legal adult, meaning he or she can sleep with whomever he or she chooses, at the age of 20; however, according to the notes that accompany the movie on this DVD, Korean teenagers can drink at the age of 19, a boy can marry at 18, and, inexplicably, a girl can marry at 16. So, given those rather arbitrary distinctions, when 32-year-old Mun-hee (Seo Jung, The Isle) has an affair with 19-year-old boy Hyun (Shim Ji-ho), she is arrested and put in jail.
Green Chair begins as Mun-hee is being paroled. Despite their being a minor media circus surrounding their case, Hyun meets her at the police station to give her a ride home. They immediately hit a hotel and launch into a marathon sex session, interrupted only briefly by bouts of paranoia and the occasional misgiving over what they are doing. These questions are mostly on Mun-hee's part, which makes some sense since she's the only one who has suffered any consequences. Her frequent doubts and her eventual surrendering to her compulsion is the most believable aspect of the script, co-written by Park Chul-soo with Kim Jun-hwan. The rest is surprisingly lacking in depth.
Though, I suppose that's not an entirely fair criticism to level in the direction of the Hyun character. He really is just a dumb kid without much depth himself. The problem is, we never really understand what Mun-hee sees in him. It's easy to see why he'd want her, because he's a hormonal teenager and she's a gorgeous woman. But what does she get in return? He provides her with no comfort, and though she says the sex is good, she has to coach him through most of it. He doesn't have a job and seemingly has no interests. When he relates his day to her, after she gets out of a grueling eight-hour community service shift, all he's done is read and think. I'm guessing it was really more of the former and less of the latter.
Though I think Park Chul-soo made the right choice in starting Green Chair at the point in the story he did, the flashbacks to the past scandal we get early on are too brief. While his point may be that there is very little connection between these two except loneliness and desire (thus paving the way for the film's denouement), a little more insight into who they are and the source of their attraction would have gone a long way.
Really, what Green Chair needed was a good script editor to bring it more thought and focus (I don't even know what the title refers to; did I miss something?). There are lunging stabs at comedy, such as an ongoing gag with a reporter, that are too silly to fit into the otherwise serious script. Likewise, the arguments about what the couple has gone through often seem shoehorned in and stiffly staged. When it's just Moon-hee and Hyun talking, or even Moon-hee and her gal pal (Oh Yoon-hong), Green Chair starts to feel like the sort of cautionary polemic they might show in high school health classes. Later, when Park Chul-soo tries to slip the film into agitprop, having the guests at Hyun's birthday party break the fourth wall and state their case directly to the camera, it's a clumsy left turn that makes little sense.
Where Green Chair does work, however, is in the quieter moments. The director captures snippets of chemistry between his lovers, such as the touching and funny moment where, after oral sex, Moon-hee jokes about her mouth being pregnant. In the same way, the sex is expertly shot and intimately choreographed. Park Chul-soo and his regular director of photography, Lee Eun-gil, clearly love the look of the naked body, particularly when two of them are put together. The sex is certainly steamy, but also meaningful, and the pair would have been better off making a straight-up erotic film and leaving the politics to someone else.
Green Chair has been put on DVD at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and given an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is generally quite good, with sharp colors, but there is also an occasional ghosting effect and one or two onscreen pops in the background. Very little to complain about, though. A solid job.
The original Korean soundtrack is mixed in both 5.1 and 2.0, and it has full atmosphere despite there not really being any complicated soundscapes. The yellow English subtitles are well paced and mostly good, with only a handful of typos. They are a tad bit small, however.
Outside of a couple of trailers for other ImaginAsian Home Entertainment titles, we get a scrolling text file that contains the somewhat esoteric director's statement and some translation notes giving background on some of the cultural aspects of the story non-Koreans may not be familiar with. More about the laws surrounding the age of consent are explained here than in the actual film, and it might help to read this first.
Green Chair is a sort of middle-distance effort from Korean director Park Chul-soo. Though the forbidden love of an older woman and a boy who is only barely under the age of consent is a good topic for a movie, the director's intentions never gel. The psychology of the characters and the politics are muddled, and we never get a clear picture of who the two lovers are. Still, you may want to Rent It for the relationship moments that do work, a strong performance by Seo Jung, and some beautifully shot erotic sequences that, at least to me, point to more of what Green Chair should have been focused on.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.