Ashamed -- Film Review

"Ashamed" is strictly festival fare.

BUSAN, South Korea -- Three women explore the idea of love and the expectations placed on women in the lesbian romantic drama "Ashamed." Director Kim Soo-Hyun's second feature doesn't always work, but if he continues to write empathetic women he could become the Pedro Almodovar of Korea.

On an international level, "Ashamed" is strictly festival fare, though entry in LGBT and so-called women's fests could be troublesome depending on criteria. At home in Korea and other parts of the Asian region it could see life in the urban art house market based on the "controversial" material.

Art professor Jung Ji-Woo (Kim Sang-Hyun), her rebellious student Hee-Jin (Seo Hyun-Jin), and Hee-Jin's friend and potential life model Youn Ji-Woo (Kim Hyo-Jin) head to a seaside town to shoot some video material for Jung's upcoming exhibition. The three women spend their down time recounting and analyzing the story of Youn's grand but failed romance with pickpocket Kang Ji-Woo (Kim Kkobbi). They met when Youn rehearsed her own suicide and the girls got handcuffed together in a contrivance that grates on the nerves.

What unfolds is an arty meditation on the nature of love and female relationships told through expressionist art and the female body (there's lots of imagery associated with floating and weightlessness). Director Kim Soo-Hyun comes from a theatrical background, and it shows in his stagy shot compositions, which occasionally go over the top. But the meticulously paced dialogue is perceptive and insightful and until the final break-up, Kang and Youn behave like adults; though Jung borders on archetypical cliche, she's a fairly complete character.

When Youn and Kang aren't "kissing" or having "sex" -- the actresses don't seem at all comfortable in the love scenes that could generate a fair amount of press in Korea -- Kim and Kim do manage a comfortable and convincing dynamic as a couple at two different points in the same relationship.

Kang's penchant for fleeing commitment and her general restlessness create a believable rift between them that ends their affair, a novel change of pace for an industry that tends to punish its homosexual characters.

Venue: Pusan International Film Festival
Production: NR. Lee's Entertainment
Producer: Lee Kyung-Hee
Director: Kim Soo-Hyun
Cast: Kim Hyo-Jin, Kim Kkobbi, Kim Sang-Hyun, Seo Hyun-Jin, Choi Min-Yong, Woo Soong-Min
Screenwriter: Kim Soo-Hyun
Director of Photography: Kim Jin-eu
Production Designer: Lee Sinhye
Music: Sim Hyun-Jeong
Costume designer: Kwak Jeong-ae
Editor: Lee Yeonjin
Sales: M-Line Distribution
No MPAA rating, 130 minutes