“I cried out endlessly!”
Words: Desmond Childs
Jung-ho (played by Lee Dong-kyu) is a novelist willing to do whatever it takes to write a best-seller. His wife Ji-Soo is a teacher who often questions her husband’s commitment to their marriage. In fact, she begins to suspect he’s cheating on her. Is she onto something? Or can Jung-ho’s distant personality be explained by his commitment to the success of his novel? And what about the questions of infidelity? And just when it all begins to come together like a good romantic novel–it becomes an erotic-thriller.
This movie really sort of messed with my head at times. I understood the basic elements presented here, but for some reason the film still felt the need to backtrack. Let me explain my problem with backtracking or as I like to call it: doubling up on exposition: Whenever a movie makes the choice to backtrack to divulge more information about the story or a specific character–I think delivering that extra information in an almost completely incomprehensible, ambiguous way is unfair to the audience. Not in a “you fail at cinema” sort of way, but because as a member of the audience–I feel like I’m being teased. Like there’s an itch I can never scratch and not just because I can’t reach it–but each time I itch, it’s a different part of my body. I felt that level of confusion with Roleplay.
Jung-ho lived through a very traumatic experience. The sexual violence the movie flashes back to did not happen to him personally, but being beaten up and forced to watch it take place can be just as scarring, I get that. However, the movie wants me to believe the girl who was sexually molested was Jung-ho’s first ‘love’ where in reality she seemed more like the key to his sexual awakening. He realized she had boobs, that he liked how beautiful her legs were, and her being able to recite poetry was a plus. I understand that many first-loves double as a lot of our sexual awakenings, but for some reason Jung-ho never really showed anything more than an almost carnal desire for the young woman. In fact, it kind of creeped me out. With that being said, I was willing to run with the notion (at least) that this man lost someone he cared deeply about. So I begin to see Jung-ho, not necessarily as a depressed, middle-aged guy desperately missing his one true love. I instead saw him as a deranged, sexually charged person who got off on mistreating his wife (indifference) and having his sexual partners dress up as the first girl who ever gave him a boner. Maybe I’m coming down as a little crass, and a bit too harsh when it comes to the film’s intentions–but Jung-ho’s personality came off way more sleazy than earnest. He was detached from reality most of the time, and spent hours rolling around on the floor daydreaming about this poor girl who was raped and killed. It’s almost as if the only way Jung-ho could deal with that pain and loss–was to inflict sexual violence himself, which we do see in a scene or two with his wife, Ji-Soo. The movie also shows us that Jung-ho was simply using his mistress Hye-In (played by Han Ha-Yoo) to fulfill any sexual desire he had reserved for his long-lost first love. Hye-In apparently resembled her in looks, and although the personality didn’t match–Jung-ho demanded her to become more ‘timid’ and ‘shy’. Gross. Just gross, disturbing, and sad.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are some aspects of what I’ve interpreted from this picture that the filmmakers intentionally put in–but Jung-ho’s psyche was so much more interesting to me than his story. The film rattles along from his planning and plotting (in his novel and in his reality) toward a horrifying finish that didn’t necessarily stun me. Besides, one can only be ignored for so long, right?
At any rate, the three characters in this one did a solid job, and while director Baek Sang-Yeol’s hand seemed to muddle the already grainy characterization of Jung-ho–I was still entertained. And as I always say about movies–what’s the goal, if not to entertain the audience?
You can find Roleplay on Hulu.com as of July 4, 2014, watch it for free with no subscription required