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February 12, 2013

Jealousy is My Middle Name

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Jiltuneun naui him
Park Chanok - 2002
Myung Films DVD

The photographer caught in the middle of the affections between her editor and a young writer, Seongkun, looks like she barely brushes her hair. When she wakes up from a night of heavy drinking, her hair is in even greater disarray. One evening spent embracing her would-be suitor, the young Wonsang, on a couch in her apartment, the floor in front of them is strewn with beer bottles. Messiness is one of the operative words here to describe the state of relationships and peoples lives in Park Chanok's film.

The main narrative is about Wonsang working on overcoming a broken relationship, dealing with his feelings for Seongkun, and trying to maintain his distance with Hye-ok,the flirtatious daughter of his landlord. Wonsang also finds himself emotionally seduced by his editor, Yunshik, acting as chauffeur or drinking buddy as the moment requires. The three work at a small literary magazine, where Wonsang's choice of authors is occasionally questioned in front of the rest of the staff by Yunshik. (Saul Bellow and Marquerite Duras are mentioned in this context.) In addition to this main triangle, is Yunshik discovered with Seongkun at a hotel lobby by his father-in-law.

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Wonsang attempts to cover up for Yunshik's infidelity. Again there's messiness of relationships, which is harder to clean than the floor of Wonsang's spartan apartment, or a few drops of urine that miss the toilet bowl.

Martin Scorsese mentions Jealousy is My Middle Name in his preface to the book, Virtual Hallyu, about recent Korean cinema. He describes the film as, "subtle and emotionally complex". What may be somewhat unusual a choice for a female filmmaker is to make a film about relationships primarily from the point of view of a male character. Wonsang is in a transitional state, not yet graduated from university, a life that seems in suspension between various possibilities. Seongkun makes the transition from veterinarian to photographer as easily as one might change coats, the only constant being a sense of maintaining emotional independence. For Yunshik, being the editor of a literary magazine is provides little consolation for an unrealized life as a writer, instead serving as justification for constant womanizing. At various junctures, these three betray each other and undermine themselves.

Park's film somewhat resembles those made by Hong Sang-soo, especially with the constant bonding over drinks, and various infidelities that take place. Park worked as an assistant to Hong on The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors. The character of Yunshik has been noted as being modeled after Hong. An interview with Hong suggests that the relationship between the two filmmakers may have spilled over from being professional colleagues.

The title translates as "Jealousy empowers me". I'm not certain if anyone is actually empowered as much as that jealousy acts as misguided motivation for some of the actions taken. Unlike a Hong film where there is the suggestion that the couplings could be viable if the guys would just settle down, the relationships in Park's film seem based solely on immediate needs and convenience. Seongkun looks even older than her claimed five year seniority over Wonsang. Hye-ok's intellectual and physical world is limited to looking after her father and brother, and her small knitting shop. When she steps into Wonsang's apartment, which is essentially a second floor addition to Hye-ok's house, she asks why Wonsang has so many books. Every family portrayed is dysfunctional in some degree. Even when there is enough self-knowledge to inform the best course of action, Park's characters choose the comfort of failing themselves.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 12, 2013 08:00 AM