Venus Talk (Gwanneungui Bubchik): Filmart Review

Hong Kong Filmart
A piece offering some engaging and sharp observations about self-doubting forty-somethings. 

Kwon Chin-il's romance dramedy revolves around three middle-aged women's trials and tribulations as they search for love and meaning in life.

It's perhaps apt that South Korean director Kwon Chil-in's romance drama begins with a debate about the authenticity of the sex they are watching on TV: The more simplistic mother (in her 40's) says it's genuine enough, while the cynical daughter (in her 20's) decries the artificiality of the mise-en-scene.

Such differing perspectives should mirror Venus Talk's appeal. Revolving around three women confronting problems brought about by their aging physique, the film should play well to middle-aged audiences but may come up short for the younger demographic demanding more rough-and-rambling fare. Kwon has proved himself to have aged well as a director, having crafted a mainstream middle-aged drama as engaging with his 2003 twenty-somethings in-crisis hit Singles.

Not that Venus Talk -- known as Laws of Pleasure in Korean -- doesn't offer nudity and sex: Its first hour basically revels in some supposedly steamy action -- with the six-pack of a younger male character as much as it did with the female protagonists -- and also comical sequences about impotence and ways to alleviate it. But it's perhaps the characters' more quotidian struggles -- with colleagues at work, with children at home and with ailments bursting from within their bodies -- that the film engages.

Kwon's film, which opened in South Korea on Feb. 13, has been bandied about as a local take of Sex and the City, and this comparison is possibly down to its characters' frequent candid conversations about femininity (among the standout lines being "If we don't get sex every night, we're not women", or "airheaded-ness if cute only if you're young") and also the comforting presence of dream jobs (one owns a kitsch patisserie; another is a show-business high-flyer) and great men (who are either sexy, loyal or bohemian).

What the film shares with its U.S. equivalent are gripping performances from the cast. Uhm Jung-hwa (SingleHaeundae) steers clear of doing easy hysteria with her turn as a television station producer who finds herself dumped by her protege-turned-boyfriend, and then struggles to make sense of a young underling (Lee Jae-yoon) who seems to love her for real; Moon So-ri (OasisHa Ha Ha) provides some measured comical moves as a wife who goes above board to maintain a busy sexual life with her fatigued, Viagra-popping husband (Lee Sung-min).

The most heartening turn here, however, belongs to Jo Min-soo (Pieta). Her thread provides Venus Talk with a grounded and sober moral anchor. Her character, Hae-young, is a frustrated single parent desperately egging her needy daughter (Jeon Hye-jin) to move out so that she could finally "taste her own food" and commit herself fully to her mild-mannered and sensual carpenter date Sung-jae (Lee Geung-young). Her wishes for a bright future, however, is marred by the demands of motherhood, the waywardness of her partner's masculinity and, finally, the onset of a deadly disease.

While Kwon and his writer, Lee Soo-ah ,(whose script came top at a Lotte Entertainment contest) do employ some melodramatic tropes, their calibrated depiction of Hae-young's physical condition and its effect on her everyday life is never played up like the cancer-driven clichés in soap operas. And it's such small details that make Venus Talk emerge beyond merely a daring "chick-flick" -- something augmented well by production designs and camera work, which strive to differentiate the moods required by the unfolding narratives of the three characters here.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, Mar. 24

Production Company: Myung Film

Director: Kwon Chil-in

Cast: Uhm Jung-hwa, Moon So-ri, Jo Min-soo

Producer: Jaime Shim

Screenwriter: Lee Soo-a

Director of Photography: Lee Hyoung-duk

International Sales: Lotte Entertainment

In Korean

108 minutes