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Scarlet Innocence - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Ma-dam ppaeng-deog

South Korea 2014

Thriller, Drama

Yim Pil-sung

Jeong Woo-seong
Park So-yeong
Kim Hee-won
Kim Nam-jin
Lee Chang-hoon
Yang Jin-woo
Kim Ja-yeong

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Scarlet Innocence

Story: Hak-gyoo (Jeong Woo-seong) is transfered to a small town, after a student has accused him of having sexually harassed her. While a friend of his assembles evidence proving his innocence the professor teaches some elderly persons in town how to become a writer. Hak-gyoo is everything but happy. But by chance he runs into the girl Deokee (Esom) who works at an amusement park. She eventually visits the professor's course and falls in love with him. Although Hak-gyoo has a wife waiting for him suffering from depression and a little daughter who needs her father the professor starts having an affair with Deokee. Eventually, Hak-gyoo is told that the accusations against him have turned out to be unfounded and that he can resume his teaching position at Seoul University the following semester. He packs his things and wants to say goodbye to Deokee when she reveals to him that she is pregnant. Thus, he goes to an abortion clinic with her and shortly afterwards breaks up with her. However, there is a tragic incident which years later makes Deokee forge out a plan that she puts into action.

Review: What's fascinating about this thriller/drama is the way the roles of victim and culprit are shifted. Contrary to similar works, which deal with betrayal and revenge, there are nuances becoming apparent even at the beginning which make it impossible to simply view Hak-gyoo as the evil-doer and Deokee as a victim. Another strength of the film is its unpredictability. There are some twists and also shifts in time that make the story more complex and also bigger without the movie losing focus. That is an impressive feat, even the more as the drama is carried well, too, without going for some cheap tears. Often enough, "Scarlet Innocence" turns out to be quite dark and with its sexually explicit scenes it also can be considered an erotic thriller. Still, all of these genres fit together seamlessly.

Scarlet Innocence - Film Screenshot 11

The film starts off in a pretty innocent fashion. Actually, you might be led to believe watching a romantic flick, if it weren't for the fact that you are already waiting for something terrible to happen. After all, the tone of "Scarlet Innocence" isn't lighthearted at all, instead it reminds us of a drama. The relationship unfolding between Hak-gyoo and Deokee isn't really thrilling, but it's necessary to lay the groundwork of the drama that results from it. However, the characters are already drawn in detail at this point. The professor is a selfish guy, but not in an unbearable manner. If resistance isn't too big he takes what he wants, though. There is also one significant scene in which his wife tells him that she knows that he is actually a good guy. That's when we are already pointed into the direction that there isn't just black and white to be found in this story.

Scarlet Innocence - Film Screenshot 12

Deokee is a naive girl who falls in love with a professor and is apparently used by him. At this point some important facts turn up which greatly distinguish "Scarlet Innocence" from a profane story around an affair in which the woman is betrayed and lied to. Deokee knows that the professor is married and has a child. Furthermore, it's Deokee who makes Hak-gyoo stay in town after all and it's also her who gives him positive signs, if she doesn't even outright seduce him. That Hak-gyoo is only looking for sex is completely obvious, but the naive girl probably isn't able to see this because of her blind love. And it's this actually even obessive love that leads to the story's great catastrophe. Which partly makes Deokee the one to blame for her suffering. The other aspect is naturally the abortion which is initiated because of Hak-gyoo's irresponsible actions.

Yet, all of this is just a prelude to the actual story around revenge in which the roles of culprit and victim are reversed, although, when looking closer at it, it's merely that the weight shifts into the other direction. Jeong Woo-seong ("The Divine Move", "Cold Eyes") plays a rather complex character, but especially at the beginning there is something boring/inscrutabel about him. It remains questionable whether he really was the best choice for this role, with his dreamy gaze and all, but he delivers a decent performance. Esom has only been seen in very small roles like in "Hindsight", but especially at the beginning she radiates the kind of youthfullness which makes her naivity believable and later on she undergoes a change that is pretty impressive and brings completely new sides of her character to light.

Scarlet Innocence - Film Screenshot 13

"Scarlet Innocence" becomes really interesting from the second half onward when Esom puts into action her scheme of revenge. But even here the movie doesn't just stop. The story, which is loosely based on the pansori "Simcheongga", has a few twists in store and sheds light on the roles of victim and evil-doer and how borders are blurred between them in a sophisticated and therefore satisfying manner. Director Yim Pil-sung ("Hansel and Gretel", "Antarctic Journal") tells his story with nice pictures and makes use of many sexually explicit scenes, as they seem to be in vogue in Korean cinema these days. However, the sex scenes are in fact motivated and serve building up the drama. Therefore, the rather slow first half of the film and the fact that as a result a lot of the story seems squeezed into the second half stands as the only real weakness of "Scarlet Innocence".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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