29 July 2014 | moviexclusive
A career-defining performance for Song Seung Hoon, this drama packs romance and passion in equal measure for a thoroughly engrossing watch
It's rare to find a top-billed South Korean actor like Song Seung Hoon in an erotic romance, which probably explains why 'Obsessed' shot up to the top of the box-office charts when it opened in its home territory earlier this year. But lest you think this is some softcore porn masquerading as artsy drama, let us caution you that it isn't quite as lurid as you think it is, notwithstanding the fact that much of the early buzz has been of the explicit lovemaking scenes between Song and his newcomer co-star Im Ji-Yeon.
In case you need a number, we counted a grand total of three such intimate sequences, each of which is depicted with just the right amount of passion to convey the intensity of the love between Song and Im's characters, but doesn't go on too long to veer into exploitation. But though we recognise why they are the movie's selling point, there is much more to this tale of forbidden love than just these three sequences; indeed, we can safely say that those looking only for such lurid pleasures will probably go away quite disappointed, which says a lot about what the movie is not about.
Co-written and directed by Kim Dae-woo, the sumptuously mounted period drama sees Song play the decorated Vietnam War Colonel Kim Jin-pyeong, who spends his restless days in charge of training at an army camp in the countryside. Still reeling from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder following his Vietnam stint, he is also caught in a loveless marriage with Suk-jin (Jo Yeo-jeong), the latter of which wants nothing more than to be pregnant with his child. Jin-pyeong of course has no such ambition, so their sex is more obligatory than anything else.
That changes with the arrival of Jong Ga-heun (Im), the wife of Captain Gyeong U-jin (On Ju-wan), whom had recently sought a transfer to Jin- pyeong's unit just so he can be closer to his idol. Jin-pyeong's encounter with Ga-heun begins when he springs to her rescue after she is held hostage by a mentally unsound soldier while visiting the camp hospital with the rest of the wives' club. The chemistry between them is mutual - both are equally taken at first sight by the other and through subsequent gatherings between their families find their attraction growing for each other - but the titular obsession unfortunately is his alone.
Throwing caution to the wind, Jin-pyeong stops not only at learning the waltz to impress her but goes as far as to arrange assignments for her husband and his wife just so they can spend more alone time together. Needless to say, it all goes downhill for Jin-pyeong very quickly, especially when in a drunken stupor, he loses control and flies into a rage at both Ga-heun and her husband U-jin in front of all the other men and women - including his wife Suk-jin - in his very own home. It is as much of a climax as you're going to get, as if the restraint of the rest of the movie were ultimately building up to that moment of his outburst.
And yet even though it is a slow burn, you'll find the romance surprisingly engaging from start to finish. Kim is no stranger to such tales of love that defies social boundaries - he was the scriptwriter of a similarly racy period romance 'Untold Scandal' in 2003, and wrote and directed 'Forbidden Quest' in 2006 and 'The Servant' in 2010 - and with sensitivity and nuance observes how a carefully controlled character like Jin-pyeong would unravel by the mere act of falling in love with a woman that he loves but cannot own. Right from the start, one recognises how his attraction for Ga-heun would ultimately end in tragedy, no matter of course the moral implications of their extra-marital affair.
The fact that their love story is so engrossing is also a testament to the chemistry between Song and Im. There is hardly any doubt at any point that their attraction is mutual, or that the sex between them is really an act of love on both their parts - as opposed to just being borne out of lust. Kim carefully details every glance, stare and smile that passes between the two actors, and his astute choice of close-ups at every turn brings his audience closer to his two lead characters.
What is also worthy to note is how Kim fleshes out the artificial world in which his characters play out their dalliance. In particular, the strict social hierarchy that exists as an unspoken rule among the army wives (what with Suk-jin being the camp commandant's daughter) and their subsequent disdain towards Ga-heun who is not just prettier but refuses to stoop to their level of engaging in gossip is especially engrossing - and on that same note, it is admirable that Kim doesn't make Suk-jin out to be some spiteful lady but rather the only one among the rest of the ladies to actually behave friendly towards Ga-heun.
Yes, 'Obsessed' may have caught your attention for being the rare Korean drama that has a major star engage in explicit sex scenes on screen, but that should remain an inadvertent selling point rather than its only one. It's not often that you get a classy period romance from Korea, especially one that chooses as its setting the Vietnam War of the late 1960s and 1970s, and 'Obsessed' will have you in its rapture about how love can both consume and destroy at the same time.