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February 02, 2016

The Beauty Inside


Byuti Insaideu
Baik - 2015
Well Go USA BD Region A

In its first incarnation, The Beauty Inside was an episodic and interactive program made for Youtube, under the direction of Drake Doremus. The main character, Alex, wakes up every morning to find that he is physically a different person, with a possible change in age, and gender. From what I read about this version, the various actors who portrayed Alex gave the role their own interpretation.

The Korean film version keeps the essential premise, but as part of a narrative story. There are reportedly twenty actors as Woo-jin, some for several scenes, others for just a few seconds, but there the character has some shared mannerisms, providing consistent traits in the various incarnations. Woo-jin is a furniture maker who lives and works alone, his only contacts with the outside world being his mother and his long time friend, Sang-beck. The embrace of the solitary life is challenged upon meeting furniture saleswoman, E-soo. Attraction turns into a few days of dating when Woo-jin appears as a handsome young man. One can stay awake and not change appearances for only a few days. Woo-jin reveals his secret to E-soo. For a while, E-soo seems to be able to live with constant change of identity.

Both E-soo and Woo-jin are 29 years old. There is no discussion, but their relationship is chaste, where sleeping together is no euphemism. The film sidesteps any controversy over such matters as age, gender and race. Woo-jin appears as a European man, a grandmotherly Korean woman, a woman of African descent, and a young boy, among his many entities. One might argue that the relationship is platonic to emphasize the idea of inner beauty. What is interesting to note is that the only versions of Woo-jin that E-soo is seen kissing are played by Koreans, with Woo-jin in female form almost, but not quite pressing lips with E-soo.

I'm not certain about the significance, but both Woo-jin and his mother have their livelihoods based on craftwork. Woo-jin makes one of a kind pieces of furniture, often for customer specifications. The mother sells yarn, and in one scene demonstrates knitting for E-soo.

This is the first feature by Baik following a career of making commercials. There is some visual play, mostly in the use of jump cuts between the different actors as Woo-jin, usually in bridges between scenes. Han Hyo-joo, as E-soo, carries most of the dramatic weight, as has a couple of Best Actress nominations for her performance here. There are some humorous moments, as well as a couple that might tug at the heartstrings. Still, I wish that there was a filmmaker brave enough to address the possibilities and implications that are shied away from here.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 2, 2016 06:00 AM