Judge Joel Pearce just had his green chair reupholstered.
Cultural taboos in your living room.
If nothing else, The Green Chair is a film that defies explanation and expectations. It has the lighthearted touch of a romantic comedy, the intensity and keen insight of a romantic drama, and the patient crafting of an art film. It's not a movie you'd want to watch with your beer-swigging dad, but it's a beautiful and thoughtful exploration of love and sex.
Facts of the Case
Mun-hee (Seo Jung, Spider Forest) is a 32-year-old woman convicted and imprisoned for seducing an underage boy. Upon her release, the two of them run away together, trying to love each other in the face of much opposition. As the initial thrill of sex begins to fade, they both realize they will need to turn the affair into a relationship.
Not many films are willing to present sex in a believable way. In most films, sex is sanitized, as if to protect us from the sweaty, awkward, imperfect reality of lovemaking. It becomes a romanticized and perfect moment between two people, as we catch glimpses of flesh through the careful cinematography. When sex is graphic, it's usually completely stripped of romance. Instead, it becomes about voyeuristic titillation, a chance to show off idealized bodies in athletic displays of passion. The Green Chair is one of a few rare films that depicts sex as it really is: an expression of desire and pleasure shared by imperfect people who are willing to—for a few moments—be completely vulnerable to each other. Both Mun-hee and Seo-hyun (Ji-ho Shim) get equal screen time as well. If there's any feeling of voyeurism to be had, it's a feeling of guilt for invading something so personal, not the thrill of seeing something naughty.
Of course, we are witnessing a cultural taboo—one that's shared by Korean and North American audiences. While we've come to expect affairs between older men and younger women, things feel strange when the situation is reversed. Especially early in their relationship, there is no question that Mun-hee is in charge. She orders Seo-Hyun around in the bedroom, and toys with his emotions to ensure that he is truly committed to the relationship. Indeed, it is she that is never quite comfortable settling in with such a younger man, which is the greatest barrier to their relationship. As The Green Chair unfolds, we're never sure where the story is headed next, just as the characters can't see the future of the relationship. It's just like being caught up in the scary—but exciting—first stages of love.
The film hinges on the performances from Seo Jung and Ji-ho Shim. It helps that they're both extremely attractive people, but they are both also intelligent, interesting, and completely believable human beings. They surprise us, surprise each other, and grow convincingly through the film. Mun-hee is paranoid and childish at the beginning of the film, absorbed by her physical attraction to Seo-hyun, which is tempered by the pain she's experienced in the past. She fears getting old most of all, that he will soon lose interest and leave. Seo-hyun, on the other hand, seems far too passive early on in the film. He enjoys having a more experienced lover, but doesn't often assert himself and his own desires. He is full of surprises as well, though, and uses the opportunity of the relationship to become a man. There are few moments in The Green Chair that don't work. It's heartfelt and sincere, and viewers will often have to remind themselves that it is fiction: I have rarely seen this accurate a love story.
Genius Products has released this as part of its ImaginAsian line, and has done a typically good job. The video transfer is clear and crisp, with only a few interlacing artifacts getting in the way of a top-notch picture. The sound is offered in Dolby 5.1 and Stereo in its original Korean, and I didn't notice many errors in the subtitles. It's a largely dialogue-driven movie, so an extensive use of the surrounds and LFE isn't expected. In terms of extras, all we get is a series of notes from director Park Chul-soo (301/302). There isn't much there, though, as a few nuggets of text whip quickly across the screen. An interview or commentary would have given us much more insight into his ideas.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Admittedly, many viewers won't be able to get past the sex in this movie. If you are offended by sex and nudity, you'll need to find your romance fix somewhere else. As well, the film does falter a bit in the last reel. The climax of the film is overly symbolic and gets a bit silly. In a film that embraces realism throughout, some of their interactions with other people simply don't ring true. These are minor points that don't prevent The Green Chair from being one of the most refreshing, surprising, and challenging movies I've seen in a long time.
If you find Hollywood romances to be shallow, trite, and unrealistic, The Green Chair will completely knock you over. It's a film that handles taboo subjects without getting political, and tries its best to document the early stages of a relationship in a realistic way. For that alone, serious film buffs will want to check it out.
Not guilty. I've enjoyed my time sitting in The Green Chair, even if it did make me squirm a little.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
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