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Y (Kim Tae Yeon), an 18-year-old South Korean high school student, determined to give up her virginity before she has it taken from her, advertises for a lover. Both Y’s sisters were raped and she is fearful of the same fate. J (Lee Sang Hyun), a respected, married sculptor responds and not only enthusiastically relieves Y of her virginity, but he introduces her to sadomasochistic experiences that continue to grow in their intensity.

Review by Jake Wilson:
Funny, erotic and surprisingly light, Jang Sun-Woo's Lies isn't precisely a hardcore porn movie. There's a great deal of onscreen sex (including much licking and caressing as well as whipping and other S&M games) but we see only brief flashes of genitalia, and no actual penetration. Nonetheless, Jang's taboo-smashing glee gives the action an insolent porno spirit (I mean that in a good way): with its naked schoolgirls, lesbian subplot, and scenes of J rapturously sniffing his lover's buttocks, this was never exactly going to be a respectable work of art. One of the great things about porn is that it automatically bypasses many of the things we normally expect in movies, such as as well-rounded characters and tightly-knit plots: rather than a smooth-flowing narrative, Lies is a jostling assemblage of various different types of scene (sexual and otherwise) placed end-to-end. In his drive to provoke the audience, Jang takes more than a few hints from the seminal 60s work of Jean-Luc Godard, breaking up proceedings with distancing devices that include ironic title cards, bursts of semi-abstract slow motion, and J's clearly far from reliable voiceover (the title remains intriguingly ambiguous). Like some of Godard's films, Lies is presented as a kind of fictional laboratory experiment, or research project on the modern world. Even if J and Y couldn't care less about what's happening around them, the film functions as an up-to-date report on a blandly 'globalised' society where life divides itself into separate, sealed compartments: when she’s not being whipped or sodomised, Y remains a conventional young woman who studies statistics and plans to be a teacher. In short, a world of brief encounters and pragmatic conformity, where sexual adventure has long ago been detached from any larger dream of freedom.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
Had it not been banned in South Korea and selected for competition at Venice it's doubtful Lies would have travelled anywhere except into the fetish section of internet video catalogues. Even then it may have had trouble attracting an audience, being too heavy for most of the art-film crowd and not hard enough for S+M buffs who usually get their kicks in movies only available with German audio. The Venice connection gives Sun-Woo Jang's film the impression of importance - we are invited to take very seriously this Last Tango In Korea that spices up the older man/younger woman scenario with whips, bloodletting and all sorts of anal antics. Interview segments with the actors add another layer of counterfeit credibility and you have to wonder just what Sang Hyun Lee was thinking when he describes the script as 'being possessed by a spirit...if we let it take over, maybe we can meet god'. The only god you'll find here is the one dishing out cinematic tedium, in this case 112 repetitive minutes of sexual activity and mundane pre and post-coital bedroom talk. There is something fascinating about obsession on this level but the characters here don't seem real for a moment; they're more like chess pieces performing depraved exotica for a director more interested in shock value than exploring the emotional netherworld the plot opens up. I found this a rather boring excursion into marginal sexual territory and a cynical attempt to create notoriety and scandal for its own sake. Pasolini fell into this trap with his dreadful Salo: or The 120 Days of Sodom. Sun Woo Jang is fatally attracted to the same course and we in the audience end up suffering much more than the characters on-screen

Review by Brad Green:
Ah, the sublime ecstasy of a firm broomstick to buttocks. Who among us does not yearn to strip naked and be beaten black and blue by the object of our desire? Well, to be honest, I can think of a thousand bigger turn-ons. In fact, my own sexual depravity involves . . . or, perhaps not. Some things are best left private. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little pure prurience every now and again. It’s just that outre alone does not equate to interesting. This film has delusory pretensions, whereas, in fact, the technique of having its ingénue actress talk - direct and out of character - to the camera about her trepidation has all the subtlety of the email I received this morning from ‘Amy’s Amateurs’ — ‘real girls bound, whipped and ravaged in front of the camera for the first time!’ In an attempt to distinguish the film from pornography, the explicit sex and sadomasochism scenes are portrayed without a flash of eroticism. At one point, the camera peeks around the curtains to suggest a voyeuristic overtone, but the sexual tension is as tight as untied shoelaces. Even the hint of paedophilia seems humdrum. Mostly because the screenplay has as much in common with Nabokov, as the autobiography of Linda Lovelace has with the diaries of Anais Nin. Nor does this story of Y and J have a sliver of the poetry of The Story of O. The dull narrative is propelled by such subtle ‘chapter’ titles as ‘Hole 1’ and ‘Hole 2’. Director Jang Sun Woo proclaims that he ‘wanted the film . . . to make the distinction between pornography and enlightenment disappear’. Instead he made any semblance of eroticism, intrigue, serious psychology or even plain old shock value disappear. Any search for meaningful subtext is desperately unsatisfying, for unlike its uninhibited protagonists, the film’s message is full of unfilled holes.

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CAST: Lee Sang-hyun, Kim Tae-yon, Jeon Hye-jin, Choi Hyun-joo

DIRECTOR: Jang Sun-woo


SCRIPT: Jang Sun-woo


EDITOR: Gok-ji Park

MUSIC: Dal Palan


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 21, 2002 (Sydney/Melbourne; other states to follow)

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