We went into the screening of Eungyo with curiosity and an open mind. People have said that this film is not just about a dirty old man fancying a teenager, it’s more beautiful than that. Therefore we went in expecting a fresh and interesting take on this taboo subject; a refutation that a love between an old man and a teenage can be nothing but looked down on.
Plot: Lee Jeok Yo (played by Park Hae Il in a lot of make up) is a renowned poet in his 70s. He has a protege in the form of Seo Ji Woo (Kim Moo Yeol) who has just published his first book to great success. Ji Woo takes care of Jeok Yo by often coming to his house, cooking and cleaning, he treats Ji Woo with great respect. One day Eungyo (Kim Go Eun) suddenly appears in their lives, the old poet is quickly taken with this young school girl and oblivious Ji Woo, who is now embarking on his own career, hires her to help him take care of the old poet who she refers to as Grandpa. And thus begins the the dramatic turn of events for these three characters.
Eungyo was adapted from a novel and during the Q&A, Director Jung Ji Woo said that the original writer was not particularly fond of this film adaptation as originally, the story focused on the two male characters. We found the relationship between Jeok Yo, the Master, and Ji Woo, the protege, fascinating as the plot unfolds throughout the film. We don’t get to learn much about this old Grandpa at first, so with each revelation, such as the ghost writer incident, we become more and more intrigued with his thoughts and intentions. This relationship of the obedient and tame protege with cold and distant master is filled with history and unspoken emotions. We get little insights into the mind of the elusive Grandpa every now and again through random outbursts, but we don’t actually get to learn a lot about this lead character (apart from his lustful side). We are a bit disappointed with how the Director had chosen to focus on Eungyo instead, and turn this movie into more of a Lolita film.
Eungyo’s character felt unrealistic to us, making the film feel a bit shallow. Our first encounter with Eungyo is focused entirely on her youthful body, the camera sexualises her, almost perves on her with close ups of her collarbone, legs, thighs, lips. Eungyo’s character was extremely frustrating. We are sorry to shatter the fantasies of all the men out there, but young girls do not act that way (or none we’ve come across). They would not crawl into bed with you and sleep against your crotch area, innocently lie on your bed and look at you seductively, or lean over with their chest in your face whilst drawing a tattoo on your chest – that is actually a very, very uncomfortable position to sit in. To us it seemed that Eungyo was perfectly aware of her sexuality, she was shortening her skirt and tightening her school uniform. Eungyo was far from innocent and her “child” like behaviour felt fake and contrived. She knew perfectly well what she was doing , she was teasing this poor old Grandpa and we have no idea why. Is it because this grandpa is talented and intellectual? Was it because she had a thing for Grandpas? Not enough effort was put into expressing and emphasising why this young girl would be interested in this old man to make it seem believable. Personally it just felt like this young girl was playing a horrible game with this lonely Grandpa’s heart.
The Director received criticism for choosing a younger actor to play a 70 year old “Grandpa” and we 100% agreed with this. The Director claimed that having a 70 year old would feel perverse but instead we found this make-up confusing as to us as Park looked nothing like a 70 year old. In fact, a real 70 year old would have the charms of a cuddly grandpa figure and not feel perverse. But instead Park lacked the warmth and innocence of a grandpa figure. Watching him throughout the film was often distracting as you couldn’t help but try to see where the make-up stopped and the actor began. We feel sorry Park had to endure over 8 hours of make up every day, but it just didn’t look convincing.
Many people say that this film is a love triangle but we don’t think Eungyo was the centre, but rather the 70 year old Poet. What makes this movie different from other Lolita films is that the old man doesn’t get the girl. After a drunken night, Ji Woo the protege sleeps with Eungyo as the 70 year old Jeok Yo can only watch from a window in frustration. This voyeuristic sex scene was actually done really well, right down to the Japanese porn style moves (don’t judge us). At first we felt that the sex scene was not really needed and seemed like a slightly unnatural progression. We are not being prudish, we enjoy a good bit of erotica as much as the next guy and we thought this sex scene was actually very well done. But it felt like it was just put in for the sake of it as audiences were starting to get agitated and they were expecting sex. The dialogue from this scene also felt frustrating as Eungyo says something along the lines of “Do you know why young girls have sex? Because we feel lonely too?”. This just proves she was just teasing and toying with the poor grandpa. But we’ve slowly come to realise that this film is not so much about the relationship between Eungyo and the Poet, but more about Ji Woo and the his mentor. Ji Woo, who we feel is the more interesting character of the film, was particularly possessive over his master, especially when Eungyo seemed to be creating a bond with him, a tie that he couldn’t replicate. It felt like he craved for this distant and aloof master’s approval and acceptance, but when he realised that he could not gain this attention he so desired, he chooses to go for what his master wants instead, Eungyo. It was as though sleeping with Eungyo was the one action Ji Woo could do which his mentor couldn’t, and carrying this out was a way to take control and get back at him, as the old man was essentially living his life through him and controlling him.
We really loved Director Jung Ji Woo’s Happy End (1999), which even today has a story and style that feels new and relevant. But the plot of Eungyo did not feel as captivating as Happy End due to the director concentrating more on the Lolita side of things rather than the more intriguing relationships in the film. The style and form of Eungyo also felt too “try hard” and slightly pretentious. It was beautifully shot and very well done, but this film had every cliché arty shot you can think of with slow motions, dreamy blurs, echoing giggles – all the shots seemed to be forcing the idea that this film is fabulous and artistic down our throats. It got to the point where it just got frustrating and we just wanted more story development. If it had come out a few years earlier then maybe it would have been ground-breakingly artistic (dare we say, art house style has gone too mainstream to still feel arthouse), but here it seemed to lack the perfect balance Happy End had with arty styles with accessible storytelling.
Overall the film was nothing particularly spectacular to us apart from the extremely graphic sex scenes, which were probably some of the more graphic displays we’ve seen in a film so far. We appreciate the beautiful cinematography but everything just felt too overdone by a million other films. It wasn’t new or refreshing or particularly taboo breaking; in fact, it was not the Lolita film it tried to say it was. We feel like the film would have really improved if the Director chose to concentrate on the men’s story instead, rather than the unrealistic character of Eungyo. Even now we would still really like to know what happened between Jeok Yo and his feelings towards his protege…