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Full of irony and metaphor, 'Vegetarian' earns spot in 'Korean cinema today'

All Headlines 09:00 October 10, 2009

By Shin Hae-in

BUSAN, Oct. 10 (Yonhap) -- Four features by little-known South Korean filmmakers were included in the Pusan International Film Festival's Korean Cinema Today: Panorama section this year, putting them on par with works by the movie industry's big names.

"Vegetarian (Chaesikjueuija)," the first feature by emerging director Lim Woo-seong, was one of the films chosen to show off the country's promising new auteurs. Aesthetic and highbrow while also convincing enough for the general public, the movie proved to be an excellent choice for the section that highlights the "essentials of Korean contemporary cinema."

Yeong-hye (Chae Min-seo), a doleful but attractive young housewife, finds herself having strange dreams that make her disgusted by meat. After suddenly becoming a vegetarian, Yeong-hye grows gaunt and faces trouble with her meat-loving husband.

Her elder sister's husband (Kim Hyun-sung), an artist desperate for some inspiration, finds himself intrigued by his "extreme vegetarian" sister-in-law.

The fascination slowly turns into desire, a feeling the man decides to explore using art as his tool.

Based on Korean writer Han Gang's short story "Mongolian Spot," the movie exquisitely combines art with sexual desire, walking a tightrope between morality and artistry.

By painting his sister-in-law's thin body with beautiful flowers, the artist is not only conducting an act of art, but also fulfilling his desire to physically possess her.

It's ironically amusing that the film successfully uses a vegetarian character to reveal the carnivorous and predatory side of humans.

In this movie, being a vegetarian is not only about rejecting meat, but all human desires.

While Yeong-hye is desperate to "cleanse herself" of a childhood trauma by not eating meat, her action fans the desire of her brother-in-law, an alter ego representing Yeong-hye's own past.

Although highbrow in its subjects -- psychology and art -- the movie manages to keep even the general audience focused throughout the film's nearly two-hour running time with a tight storyline and convincing characters.

The movie also utilizes refined cinematography and artistry to successfully employ the characters' emotions.

The quality of the film is even more surprising considering the short career of the director. Lim, 38, studied at Art Center College of Design in Seoul and wrote and directed his first short film "Midnight Movie" last year.

Less than a year later, he had not only completed "Vegetarian," but was also working on his second feature, "Scar."

The 14th Pusan International Film Festival, which uses the old Romanization of the southeastern city's name, will run through Oct. 16, featuring 355 films from 70 countries as the largest of the annual event to date.

Established in 1996, the festival has since grown into one of most influential film fests in Asia, focused on discovering new films and first-time directors from across the region.


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