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Original Title:
Nabbeun Namja

South Korea 2001


Kim Ki-duk

Jo Jae-hyeon
Seo Won
Kim Yun-tae
Choi Duek-mun
Choi Yoon-young
Kim Jung-young
Shin Yoo-jin
Nam Gung-Min

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Bad Guy

Story: Han-gi (Jo Jae-hyeon) is a pimp and a gangster who one day takes a stroll through the upmarket area of town and sees the student Seon-hwa (Seo Won) sitting on a park bench there. He approaches and kisses her which leads to some soldiers coming to her rescue with whose help she humiliates the man in front of everyone. Han-gi wants to take revenge for that and later on tricks Seon-hwa into stealing a purse which is why she must give back the money to the man she has stolen it from which in fact she didn't steal and she can't raise the funds either. She lends some money from a bunch of gangsters and signs a contract that states that she would have to sell her body if she can't pay back the money within a week. This is how Seon-hwa ends up in a red-light district and works for the pimp Han-gi, eventually, who watches her in her room through a mirror without her knowing it. Furthermore, one of Han-gi's man falls in love with Seon-hwa and wants to help her flee. However, Han-gi doesn't let her escape. Because he in fact has feelings for her himself...

Review: "Bad Guy" is most likely the movie that caused the biggest outrage among viewers of all Kim Ki-duk films to date. And yet, or maybe just because of that, it is a drama that is utmost fascinating. Why, more than anyone else, it is especially the female audience that feels as if "being raped" by this film is absolutely evident. "Bad Guy" is dealing with a tough subject. Protagonist Han-gi forces a student who is living at ease to work as a prostitute. That's not all, under these circumstance she also has her first time. The despair the student is feeling and her constant raping are surely not easy for the viewer to digest, but behind all the suffering and filthiness in this world that is depicted here there is still hidden something else that some viewers who don't go beneath the surface might easily miss out and which actually is what's really appealing in this movie. Love. To present love in its everyday form is pretty easy, but to depict the more difficult form of it, the more difficult circumstances in which love can blosom, that is Kim Ki-duk's concern.

The film starts with an interesting contrast of pictures. Han-gi is strolling through an upmarket area and sees the student Seon-hwa. He watches her and listens to what she is talking with her boyfriend at the phone, while he realizes one thing. Even though he is interested in the girl he has no chance to score. Han-gi is a foreign body in this society, he has always lived among gangsters and could never approach a girl like Seon-hwa in a normal way. His anger about this is expressed through a kiss he forcefully presses on the girl's lips as if he wanted to eat her. With a trick, which admittedly isn't really that plausible, he can get the student to be part of the red-light district. That's where things get hard for those who don't have nerves of steel. The first few times Seon-hwa is more or less getting raped until at some point she starts to accept her fate and as some sort of protective mechanism apparently even begins to have "fun" at her "work". Seo Won delivers a very well done dramatical portrayal so that her suffering can touch us very deeply and during some moments becomes almost unbearable to watch.

Jo Jae-hyeon ("Sword in the Moon", "The Isle") plays a pimp who obviously has already seen a lot in his life. He talks in an extremely high-pitched voice which is why he doesn't say anything except for two lines in the movie. The reason for that is that someone seemingly tried to cut his throat once. Apart from that there are also other occasions where Han-gi experiences quite some beating or stabbing, yet he is always back on his feet shortly after. He is in fact a bad guy, but if you start to think about it there is only one reason besides the motive of revenge that is prevailing. Han-gi has fallen in love with the student and wants to stay close to her. To achieve this he sees no other possibility but to incorporate her into his life. And since he only knows prostitutes when it comes to women she simply has to become one herself. The feelings he has for her are getting clearer as the film progresses. At the beginning it's just striking that he is not among those guys who rape the girl and he also doesn't use her services for money. When he is drunk he even goes to her and just lies down next to her. It seems as if even a bad guy like him needs some warmth in his life.

Then there is also the motive of voyeurism as Han-gi observes Seon-hwa through a one-way mirror. This mirror also stands as some sort of barrier that is still seperating the man from the student. A man like Han-gi simply doesn't know how he should express his feelings and so there remains a wall between him and the girl. Seon-hwa on the other hand owes her now ruined life only to her tormentor. It seems to be impossible for her, even if she would be set free, to lead a normal life once again. Han-gi has taken Seon-hwa's life. But with time there is something else emerging. It actually seems as if Seon-hwa is starting to understand Han-gi's feelings at some point. This is only hinted at for most of the time, though. Of course, it should be difficult to mentally grasp the fact that the student could have any other feeling than hatred for her tormentor, but maybe in another world...

But where lies this other world? For director Kim Ki-duk it obviously is located somewhere between here and there. He once again blurs the borders between dream and reality by creating a time paradox towards the end which makes the last scenes impossible in our world. But somehow this doesn't seem to be important anymore. Because at this point Kim Ki-duk has already created enough emotions that can make you feel the movie rather than understand it. The good acting achievements and a nice soundtrack also add to the almost dream-like story at the end which makes the flower of love blosom in a dirty world full of scum. To perceive this or rather to be ready to perceive it naturally costs the viewer a lot of strength and a way of thinking that takes place outside of the safe norms of our society. To overcome barriers, especially in our thinking, that's exactly what Kim Ki-duk aims for, though. For those who can't do that "Bad Guy" will most likely only create negative emotions of anger and hatred. That would be a pity as director Kim often simply shows that even in the most run-down world there is still beauty and purity to be found, although not in the shape of what we are used to see. A well-done and genuine drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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