Lies

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Tribute to Jang Sun-woo

Lies

거짓말 (Geojitmal)

South Korea, 1999, 112’, Korean
Directed by: Jang Sun-woo
Screenplay: Jang Sun-woo, from the novel by Jang Jung-il
Photography (color): Kim Woo-hyung
Editing: Park Gok-ji
Production Design: Kim Myeong-gyeong
Music: Dal Paran
Producers: Shin Chul, Jonathan H. Kim
Cast: Lee Sang-hyun (J), Kim Tae-yeon (Y), Jeon Hye-jin (Woori), Choi Hyun-joo (G). Han Kwan-taek (older brother)

Date of First Release in Territory: January 8th, 2000

 

The South Korean film industry in the 1990s was involved in a great number of conflicts, protests, incidents and controversies. This was, after all, the decade in which filmmakers managed to greatly expand the range of content that could be expressed in films without being censored. Every step along that path was a battle, and perhaps no battle was more fiercely and publicly fought than the struggle over Jang Sun-woo’s Lies.  
Certainly, Jang must have known what he was getting into. Based on the novel Lie to Me by Jang Jung-il (who also wrote the novel on which To You, from Me is based), Lies tells the story of an 18-year old high school girl who calls up a famous 39-year old sculptor and proposes they meet up for sex. After a few meetings, they progress to whipping as a means of foreplay, first with the man beating the girl, and then later with the roles reversed. The film is more than willing to make its viewers uncomfortable with lengthy depictions of beating, anal sex and coprophilia. The film never injects any moralizing point of view into the story. Neither does it judge its protagonists, or give the audience any clue about what meaning to draw from the events they are watching.
The Korean public first heard of Lies in August 1999 when the local censorship board announced that they would ban the film. A few days later, Lies became the first Korean film since the 1980s to be invited to screen in competition at the Venice Film Festival. Months of controversy followed, with extensive press coverage of its screenings in Venice followed by numerous appeals from the production company to allow its release. Finally, the film passed censorship and was released on January 8, 2000 with 5 minutes of footage removed, genitalia blurred and several scenes screened without sound.
Lies is unusual in that for all of its provocative content, there is a kind of blank space at its center. Ultimately, it is the viewer who fills it in. So everyone will see and experience in a somewhat different way. Director Lee Chang-dong perhaps put it best when, writing for local magazine Cine21 after watching the film in 2000, he said, “I’ve seen films try to present fantasy and fail, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that presents emptiness in place of fantasy like Lies does.”
In some ways it’s a relief to be able to view Lies now so far removed from the public battles and controversies of its day. Of course, it still holds the power to shock its audience, but it deserves to be seen now not as provocation, but simply as a film. It may not ask for, or particularly need any defending, but maybe the best thing you can say in the film’s defense is that it is cinematic to its core. 

 

Jang Sun-woo

 

Jang Sun-woo (b. 1952) majored in anthropology at Seoul National University, and was a member of the influential Seoul Film Collective in the early 1980s. His 1983 essay “Toward an Open Cinema” was a groundbreaking call for a radically new approach to filmmaking in Korea. Jang shot his first feature film Seoul Jesus in 1986, and would go on to tackle a wide spectrum of styles over the course of his career. Provocative in every sense of the word, he often clashed with local censorship authorities at home while being lauded at film festivals such as Venice and Berlin.

FILMOGRAPHY

1986 – Seoul Jesus
1988 – The Age of Success
1990 – Lovers in Woomukbaemi
1991 – The Road to the Racetrack
1993 – The Avatamska Sutra
1994 – To You, from Me
1996 – A Petal
1997 – Timeless, Bottomless Bad Movie
1999 – Lies
2002 – Resurrection of the Little Match Girl

 
 
Darcy Paquet
Film director: JANG Sun-woo
Year: 1999
Running time: 112'
Country: South Korea
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