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South Korea 2009

Drama, Comedy, Romance

Hong Ji-young

Shin Min-a
Ju Ji-hun
Kim Tae-woo
Jeon Hye-jin
Park Sang-hun
Jeong So-yeon

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The Naked Kitchen

Story: Ahn Mo-rae (Shin Min-a) is happily married with Han Sang-in (Kim Tae-woo), who quits his job in order to realize his dream of becoming a restaurant owner. Mo-rae works in a parasol shop and knows Sang-in since childhood days, which is why she has never had eyes for any other man. However, one day she visits a gallery where she meets young charismatic Park Doo-re (Ju Ji-hun) who instantly mesmerizes her so that she has a small escapade. Still the same day, she tells her husband about her misstep, but after his first initial disappointment Sang-in doesn't want to talk about this topic anymore, rather prefering to pretend that this incident never happened. This doesn't seem to be that easy, though, because Sang-in's friend who he called over from France to help him improve his cooking skills, is no one else but Doo-re. When Doo-re is even staying at the couple's home for now, problems are preprogrammed to arise, even the more as Mo-rae doesn't really know anymore who her heart truly beats for...

Review: "The Naked Kitchen" is a movie that deals with the topic of love triangles, a subject that has been picked out as a central theme for movies since the beginning of motion pictures, but this movie works with it in a more unusual way. By doing so the viewer is constantly unsure if the theme is actually dealt with in an adequately new and exciting way or if the story is simply told too plain and in a trivialized fashion. A woman loving two men, a husband, who unconditionally forgives his wife's infidelity and a rivalry between two men that never really comes across as such and isn't that captivating actually. Of course, you should be thankful that you don't get presented with your usual stuff, but the lightheartedness that runs through the whole movie builds an emotional distance between the audience and the characters as well as the problems that, without saying, occur in such a love triangle relationship. As a result you get a movie that is pleasently jovial and at times really entertaining, but at the end you still have to ask yourself what the film's essence really is.

Food plays a major role in Korea and this theme has been utilized in an especially successful fashion in movies. "Le Grand Chef" and "The Antique", but even the more dated "301, 302" are only a few movies that deserve to be mentioned. "The Naked Kitchen" in itself is no movie food actually takes a central role in, though. There are some dishes Doo-re is showing us every now and then, which may make some viewers' mouths water, but if you look at it closely this element doesn't really serve the movie's dramaturgy. Instead of becoming a cook Sang-in also could had become an artist, who wants to open his own gallery or even a wrestler! Therefore, it's a bit unfortunate, that the director couldn't make more of the theme.

The characters are only captivating to a limited extent, too. Shin Min-a ("My Mighty Princess", "Madeleine") seems a bit too naive and innocent for the movie which also makes it somewhat unbelievable that she actually would cheat on her husband. On the other hand, who really knows another person completely? And maybe it's even those more shy individuals you really wouldn't expect to be capable of doing something like this, who in fact are more open for committing adultery.
Ju Ji-hun, who also played a role in the already mentioned "Antique" bestows the necessary coolness as well as arrogance and self confidence upon his character without losing any of his youthful charm and vitality. He delivers the most convincing portrayal in the movie. In contrast, Kim Tae-woo ("Return", "Bus Stop") just remains too cold and withdrawn. He puts up with too much from his rival Doo-re and only takes actions against losing his wife inexplicably late.

It's really late that Doo-re and Sang-in finally clash and that's strange. Of course this might be because of the rather joyful and lighthearted atmosphere of the film, but it's surely not credible. When two men fight for a woman's heart, this surely will never be a nice or peaceful quarrel.
What's interesting is Mo-rae's attidude concerning the whole situation. She loves both men. At least that's what she thinks. Yet, she is quite aware that loving both won't work. Sometimes the movie sheds some light on the subject of love in a surprisingly serious and grown-up way. Does Mo-rae really love Sang-in or has she only been "brought up" to love him as Sang-in has taken care of her since childhood days? It's true that at some points in "The Naked Kitchen" you come across scenes that have an unexpected depth to them, which sadly never really comes across, though, because of the lively mood of the film.

"The Naked Kitchen" offers lightweight humor, only that much that you will be carried through this jaunty comedy/drama in a pleasant way, but never so much to make the movie's turn into more serious realms at the end feel too forced. Female director Hong Ji-young has utilized some tricks from "Antique" where she worked behind the scenes and that's playing in the movie's favor. The use of bright sunlight and especially the incidence of light during the first meeting of Mo-rae and Doo-re as well as the sets created with a good eye for small details really add to the film's quality. It's just a shame that the potential which the plot offered goes to waste because of the diplomatic presentation of the movie, never managing to move the viewer and make him ponder about what he has seen. It seems director Hong tried to please everyone and therefore only creates a dish with a stale taste which at best can be of use as an appetizer. - And by the way, who came up with that stupid english title?

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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