Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (2000) 오! 수정

Country: South Korea
Language: Korean
Theme: Romance/Erotica
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Starring: Lee Eun-ju, Moon Sung-keun

Ratings: IMDB: 7.0/10

Film Festivals:
2000 Cannes Film Festival: Un Certain Regard
2000 Asia-Pacific Film Festival (APFF)
2000 Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF)
2001 Singapore International Film Festivkal (SIFF)

2000 APFF Best Screenplay
2000 TIFF Asian Film Award: Special Mention
2000 TIFF Special Jury Prize

2001 SIFF Silver Screen Award for Best Asian Feature Film

This film by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo is a comedy-drama that is significant for its use of black & white cinematography, a rarity—and a quirky trait even—given the modern day color cinematic technologies. Yet another unique editing feature is how this movie is packaged in the form of a novel, with chapters and sub-chapters separating each disparate portion of the film. Parallel editing structures are used, with the core of the movie revolving around the courtship and romance of art gallery owner Jae-Hoon (Moon Sung-keun) and scriptwriter Soo-jung (Lee Eun-ju).

We see identical scenes occurring in Chapter One (Day’s Wait) and Chapter Four (Naught Shall Go Ill When You Find Your Mare), but taking on different perspectives in each chapter. The movie opens from Jae-Hoon’s perspective and casts light on his inner desires, before adopting Soo-jung’s perspective of the affair in the later half of the movie. There are slight differences in the recount on both parts, and what actually happened is, really, anyone’s guess. But this also means that identical scenes are featured in the film, with identical dialogue, such as at 06:11, the scene outside the art gallery. Further, the hotel room conversation at 04:10 is recaptured at 55:40, albeit from a different perspective. The first scene captures Jae-hoon with Soo-jung over the phone while the latter captures Soo-jung with Jae-hoon over the phone, whilst Hong intersperses this scene with a cutaway of Jae-hoon sitting by the coffee table in his hotel room to crystalise and exemplify the concept.

The still shot at 11:00 as we see Jae-hoon and several students staring and gossiping about something that is occurring in the distance. We can only focus on their gaze that leads beyond the camera. We soon realize it is a film scene, and the camera cuts away to Soo-jung walking down a path, framed towards the extreme right of the picture. This pivotal scene which involves Soo-jung picking up the winter gloves Jae-hoon accidentally left behind is repeated later on, albeit from Soo-jung’s point of view of picking up the winter gloves.

Jae-hoon makes his feelings known to Soo-jung through a forced kiss at 18:17, a clandestine action that goes on behind the back of their mutual friend Young-soo, who also has the hots for Soo-jung. Hong uses an off-center framing as Soo-jung warily follows the male protagonist, who wanted to show her something interesting and funny, down the very dark alleyway. She stops and hides in the shadows, before slowly backing towards the light and waiting. This creates an impression that even though she knows her actions are perhaps improper deep down, she was ready to commit to Jae-hoon in spite of all that she is vocally saying. If she wasn’t commital, Hong would perhaps have made the directorial decision to have Soo-jung turn around and walk away, or remain cast in the shadows to create a greater sense of rape, forced action and secrecy.

At 28:25 she volunteers to be his girlfriend only when he drinks – and this is shown through his more humane and less eccentric ways when he is slightly tipsy. The camera remains still and focused on the faces of the two characters as the taxi brings them to their destination – a cutaway shows them in a park sharing an intimate moment, in the shadows – an indication of Jae-hoon’s wish for the relationship to remain discrete (28:40). The scene is absolutely silent save for the ambient chirping of crickets in the background. Contrast this with Soo-jung’s later interpretation of the two sharing an intimate moment in the lighted foreground, an indication of a will to be open about their relationship (1:24:13)

Yet there are several cinematic decisions that has left me baffled. While differences in story plot and actions do prevail throughout the story, there are other minor differences that confused me and I can’t determine their significance to the study. For instance, in the dinner scene at 07:41, we see a still camera frame as the characters discuss paintings and the trust the two male characters place on each other. The three characters in the foreground are in focus while two other customers fill the empty space in the background with their meal. Yet the scene that directly complements it at 1:03:07 shows that the customers have left and the shop assistant clearing up the dirty dishes instead — could this be sheer happenstance, a discontinuity that was overlooked?Also, by my film notes (and unless I have really been quite inattentive), Jae-Hoon (the name of the male protagonist)’s name was only introduced midway through the show – but I am unable to make of any reason for it.

Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors is ultimately a very sexually suggestive movie with dialogue littered with sexual innuendoes and plenty of sexually-charged scenes throughout the film. Soo-jung, for instance, is accustomed to not wearing a bra during winter, and the camera captures via a medium shot both the tender action of Jae-hoon licking her nipples and the violent thrusts of Soo-jung masturbating the latter mid-way through the movie. Soo-jung is a virgin who throughout the film appears unwilling to give up her virginity to Jae-hoon. The camera captures his hand strategically placed under her skirt, and the audience can logically complete the mental image that he is feeling up her vagina. Examples of suggestive dialogue exchanges in the movie include: “This is all you want to do” / “You’ve got my breasts, haven’t you?”. Later on, there are lines such as: “I want to suck your whole body. Every inch. I want to sleep with you.” “Really?” “Yes” “I want to do it too”. Lastly, we know Soo-Jung gives up her virginity through the violent thrusting action of anal sex in one of the climactic scenes. Jae-hoon guides her along as she screams in pain, making sure he remains conscious throughout the process to prevent the error of calling out a wrong name as he did earlier.

Yet there is a notable absence of one cinematic device that has frequently been used to convey the sexually-fuelled scenes: that of cigarettes and the act of smoking. Rather, Hong opts for a more linguistic and visual approach than such a semiotic function. Testament to the quirky nature of the film is the light-hearted soundtrack that is used virtually throughout the film, ranging from the light-hearted children’s folk beats as the credit rolls at the start of the film, as well as the music used whilst transcending the different chapters.

It is unfortunate that leading female actress Lee Eun-ju would commit suicide five years after the release of this film following her involvement in The Scarlet Letter (2004). Passing on virtually at the peak of her career at the age of 24 following notable performances in Brotherhood (2004), The Scarlet Letter (2004), Bungee Jumping of Their Own (2001) and this film, I cannot help but wonder if she will one day take on the legendary prominence and impact that Ruan Ling-yu had on the Hong Kong film industry in the 1930s. Granted that Ruan Ling-yu was much more prolific in the number of films she was involved in, both stars are similar in their realistic portrayals of subtle nuances in everyday characters. Yet whether the huge churn of actors and actresses today would have rendered such a death insignificant and perhaps even forgettable remains to be seen.