A group of Japanese people go to Korea looking for sex…who thought that this was not a terrible idea?
Ever since she was a little girl, Yoon-ah wished to be a J-pop star. This may seem a little odd, since she is Korean and not Japanese, but she would sing this one Japanese pop song over and over again. This dream of being a J-pop star remained just as strong when she entered adulthood. However, Yoon-ah has made little progress on that front, and has been working at her grandmother’s kimchi store. Her dreams, however, go into overdrive when she learns that a talent scout has come to her city to look for potential J-pop stars. Honestly, I had figured that most J-pop stars began when they were pre-teens, but what do I know? I am not sure how old the character is supposed to be, but the actress was twenty-four or twenty-five during filming.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Ryoko is in the process of having sex with a guy. On camera. Yes, she is the titular Adult Video Idol. The movie is more interested in the people behind the scenes, specifically the cameraman, the make-up girl who is eating chips pretty much the entire time, and the director who has dozed off during the filming. When filming is done, the director gets woken up and everything seems to be done for the day. Things are not quite done for the film crew and Ryoko, though. Apparently, the director had talked with Ryoko’s former agency about a certain project. And by “former agency”, I mean that Ryoko is not in contact with them. This means that Ryoko had no idea that the director has arranged for her to leave for South Korea…the next day. Ryoko may be a professional, but the professionalism of the director is questionable at best.
After some…issues…with a Korean customs agent, Ryoko, the makeup girl, the director, and the cameraman are in Seoul…to make a porn flick where Ryoko has sex with a Korean man. Things get off to a rocky start even before filming starts. First off, they all have to stay in the same hotel room, due to having a shoestring budget. Secondly, they have not received permits for filming…well…anywhere. Thirdly, they have not actually hired a Korean actor to be Ryoko’s…counterpart. Fourthly, no one in the group can speak Korean. The director and the cameraman go around asking men on the street whether they want to have sex with Ryoko. Some of the men have no idea what they are saying, while some think that they are pimps. They have to run from the cops on more than one occasion. Eventually, one guy agrees to take part in the porn, but that turns out…uh…badly.
The director, who is rather absent-minded and pretentious, wants to soldier on. The makeup girl is rather apathetic as long as she has something to eat. The cameraman, however, is getting…apprehensive. And Ryoko is having none of this. She may not have the status that she once had, but she is still a professional. She wants to go home. She wants out of this project. She wants to get away from all of this stinky kimchee. She hates kimchee.
Not so far away is Yoon-ah. She had gone to the J-pop audition, but was discouraged when the other contestants, with their arrogance and their Korean style of sex-appeal, treated her like a hick and a nobody. Yoon-ah left without even seeing the judges. She goes back to the store, resigned to spending the rest of her life there. Then, suddenly, she finds someone outside. A drunk woman has fallen face-first into a bunch of kimchee and passed out. It is Ryoko.
Ryoko wakes up in Yoon-ah’s home. Yoon-ah is delighted to find out that Ryoko is Japanese and Ryoko seems relieved that there is someone whom she can speak with. The director calls Ryoko to find out what is going on, giving Yoon-ah the impression that Ryoko is some kind of big celebrity. Ryoko…does not exactly lie to Yoon-ah, but she is rather hesitant to say what she really does for a living. Before she knows it, Yoon-ah is asking to come along to the shoot and act as an apprentice. Ryoko is extremely wary about this, but agrees anyways.
The director is upset not just that Ryoko had left the production, but that she had come back with some awkward and clueless tag-along in tow. Ryoko does not have the heart to tell Yoon-ah to leave…or to tell her the truth about this film project. Instead, the make-girl gets loud for the first time in the movie and yells for everyone to leave so that she can apply makeup to Yoon-ah. At this point, the director changes his tune and decides to cast Yoon-ah in the film. Now, the film was supposed to be about how Ryoko goes to Korea and has sex with a Korean man. Yoon-ah, however, is a Korean woman. One possible way around this could have been to make this a lesbian-themed porn movie. The director, however, takes a very different route, one that is both hilariously lazy and bizarrely overcomplicated, in order to incorporate Yoon-ah into the movie while keeping the true nature of the production hidden from her.
The story of an innocent young woman with dreams of fame who gets sucked into the world of sexual depravity has been told numerous times in depressing dramas and sleazy exploitation films. This movie, however, is a comedy, and a rather innocent and lighthearted one as opposed to puerile or campy, even when it falls face-first into really bad taste. Sure, there is drama and a bit of uncomfortableness regarding the premise, but those moments come and go. And while there is sex and nudity, there is only really one part of the movie where that is the focus. Almost all of the raunchy sex humor is undercut by the characters, either through their businesslike behavior, the director’s delusions of grandeur, or the gleeful lack of realization regarding impropriety. This movie is goofy when it wants to be, and often treats realism as an obstacle to be overcome. The movie may sometimes go to some dark places, but it is too stupid to take them seriously.
The characters are what make the movie. Yoon-ah may be a little…dim…but I could not help but want her to succeed, even as she seems to go further down the wrong path. The director is loveably insane, pressing ahead despite having almost no resources necessary to even make an amateur film. Each time he switches between arguing that he is making art and arguing that he is simply making an Adult Video, there is so much conviction that I cannot believe that he is being a hypocrite. The cameraman is the put-upon buttmonkey of the group. The makeup-girl just likes to eat and do make up; let her do that and she will just go with whatever crazy thing the director says.
The film really belongs to Ryoko, who is actually played by a woman who, as of 2012, had been an AV actress for about four years. No, I am not familiar with her work. She starts out seeming like a bit of a whiny diva, but that is mostly because this trip to Seoul was sprung on her on extremely short notice and the circumstances surrounding the project are rather intolerable. As the film goes on, though, she gets more layers, so to speak. She tries to be a consummate professional despite all of the chaos that the director causes, but something kind of wakes up inside her when she meets Yoon-ah. She remembers being just like Yoon-ah before unscrupulous managers left her in serious debt and with no other choice but to do porn. She was famous for a while, but has been going through difficult times as of late. And this South Korean project is one of those difficult times.
While it may initially seem like Ryoko does not want to reveal what she does to Yoon-ah out of shame or some manipulative drive, it eventually starts to seem like Ryoko saw the unbridled childlike joy that Yoon-ah expressed and was too afraid to burst that bubble with the truth. And when things seem about to spiral out of control, Ryoko becomes not resentful towards Yoon-ah, but concerned for her and guilty about what she has been doing to her new friend. That is kind of deep stuff for a porn star acting in a sex comedy.
While this movie may be a joint Japanese/South Korean production, the overall style and tone (not to mention the director) suggests that this is mostly a Japanese film. I am not sure exactly what makes me feel that way, but I guess that you will just have to watch the movie and decide on your own. I guess that one hint is how Yoon-ah seems so enamored with Japan and Japanese people. The in-universe reasons for this are…well…a little thin. Another hint is the rather obvious signifiers of South Korean culture. There is, of course, Kimchee, which Yoon-ah makes and everyone enjoys except for Ryoko. There are also brief references to celebrities, such as Lee Byun-hun (from the GI Joe movies, Red 2, and that Terminator movie) and a couple of K-pop acts. The main tip-off, however, was the reference to Winter Sonata, a South Korean television drama that was a hit in Japan and has been credited for kicking off the Korean Wave. I am not familiar with the show myself, but I would assume that I would find parts of the is movie even funnier if I were. Granted, these may represent a rather limited view of Korean culture, but Yoon-ah’s grasp of Japan seems to be primarily the Japanese language and this one old pop song that she sings over and over again. Fair is fair.
One barely stated running gag is the implication that pornography is foreign to South Koreans. I cannot say for certain whether that is true or not, but despite the somewhat awkward (in my opinion) expression of sexiness in Korean pop music and television, South Korea seems to have few problems coming up with movies that are sexually charged and sexually frank. It is just outright pornography that is forbidden…I think. And, boy are there South Korean movies that try to push that envelope. So, this movie may be a little misleading there…or maybe I am just reading into something that is not there. It does not matter; this movie is too silly to care either way. And by the time that the movie deliberately torpedoes a perfectly serviceable dramatic ending for a wonderfully stupid one, I stopped caring about whether it mattered as well.
If you can get past the somewhat shady premise of this movie and a few questionable scenes, you might find it to be a highly enjoyable little comedy. Or don’t get past it; embrace it. Give it a big sticky hug.
WTF ASIA 66: Mulan (China: 2009, approx. 114 minutes)
Available on Amazon, but dubbed. Subbed version is on…the internet.
WTF ASIA 67: The Man from Nowhere (South Korea: 2010, approx. 119 minutes)