With a stellar cast and a fantastically absurd concept at its heart, The Beauty Inside seems promising. But Baek Jong-yul’s use of romantic clichés, while enjoyable to a degree, leaves you with a bad aftertaste. What could well have been an avant-garde piece of film is played out in a frustratingly conventional way.
“Causes him to wake up each morning in a different body”
The Beauty Inside opens with a familiar scene: a man sneaks out of a woman’s bed before she wakes up. But Woo-jin (here portrayed by Kim Dae-myung) is no average f****boy, and neither is his reason for leaving her high and dry. He suffers from a bizarre condition which causes him to wake up each morning in a different body, with everything from race to gender subject to change (this is also the premise of the 2012 American film of the same name).
Woo-jin explains his predicament through a voiceover as he goes about his daily affairs-getting his eyes tested, buying new shoes and stocking up on cosmetics for each body he finds himself in. The voiceover seems unnecessary; it would’ve been more amusing to infer that the old man with a bald patch and the woman in her twenties were both Woo-jin. Baek Jong-yul’s direction becomes yet more banal when Woo-jin has a black-and-white flashback of his past, accompanied by a sentimental piano track.
“It really put the ‘com’ into this rom-com”
However, not all tropes in this film leave you rolling your eyes. Woo-jin’s childhood best friend and business partner Sang-baek (Lee Dong-hwi) is tactless, borderline-sleazy and pretty damn hilarious. Whether he’s trying to convince his best friend in a female body to sleep with him or he’s simulating sex on a wooden chair, Lee’s curt delivery of lines and gusto really put the ‘com’ into this rom-com.
“Cue the clichés…”
Emotional tumult ensues when Woo-jin encounters Yi-Soo (Han Hyo-joo), an employee at a furniture store. Cue the clichés- a guitar strums in the background as Woo-jin watches Yi-soo in awe from across the room. This contrasts with a scene later on, when Woo-jin drops his smooth front and admits that he practised asking Yi-soo out. Such rare moments of sincerity render Baek Jong-yul’s blind use of clichés elsewhere all the more jarring.
As Yi-soo learns the truth about Woo-jin, the movie takes us through the peaks and troughs of their relationship. But these are hard to believe. Yi-soo seems almost fickle at points, reacting with anger and shock to Woo-jin’s confession only to turn up at his house a few shots later. We never see her transition fully from one state of mind to the other. Lack of character development, however, is a con of more or less all high-concept films.
“Opts for a story that appeals to our simpler sentiments”
Maybe the most frustrating thing about this film is that it plays things too safe. Woo-jin’s condition could easily have been used as a medium to explore issues of gender and sexuality, especially seeing as Yi-soo expresses romantic interest in him regardless of his gender. Baek Hyong-yuk instead opts for a story that appeals to our simpler sentiments, but in doing so stunts the much wider potential his creation had.
Image Courtesy of Asian Movie Pulse Website