Film: The Insect Woman (Chungyo / 충녀)
Director (& co-writer): Kim Ki-young
Venue: Korean Cultural Centre, London
Cast:Yoon Yeo-jeong Nam Kung-won Jeon Gye-hyeon
Running time: 110 minutes
The Insect Woman (Chungnyeo / 충녀) is an award-winning 1972 South Korean film directed by Kim Ki-young. For those of you in the know, and of course those who aren’t Kim Ki-young is also responsible for the original “The Housemaid”, directorial-wise I mean.
Think “One Flew Over The C Nest” and you’ll then get the starting point of this award-winning film. A man is admitted there, in this hospice come home. A – well, let’s say pessimistic – guy who is perhaps more an experienced realist… at least with the opposite sex.
Soon after, we’re shown a school where a repeat offender kind of girl is introduced. Or at least that’s what the other kids think of her.
Surely this girl is not as bad as we think. It definitely doesn’t seem this way when she is seen at home with her struggling ‘concubine’ of a mother. This mother, in fact resembles a little ‘Mother (Madeo / 마더)’ actress, Hye-ja Kim and never more ironic I thought this resemblance than when her daughter exclaims “MOTHER!”
From this pretty upsetting family gathering it’s summised that our main young female must start to work. After all, somebody must pay for her mum and family in general.
You could say that she falls in with the wrong female crowd. Or you could assume that this semi-vocation chosen is the best paid, even if she’s so very unwilling and reluctant do do certain things.
So, we’re in a bar… Yes, it’s one of those bars. Where lonely & often sexed up men frequent. What’s the ambience here? Well, most amusingly [Mini Mini thought] it’s the sounds of Stevie Wonder! (an instrumental, saxed up rendition of his “Cherie Amour”, no less) in a moodily & snugly lit establishment.
We wonder if this young girl is a Virgin – not because the audience are perverted but because the idea is hinted at, by words of a man. This guy, apparently has more than enough to make little Miss Innocent non-refuse.
Of course, as I mentioned previously this missy is unwilling – although perhaps unwitting is a better character description – and even tries to dissuade him, by offering her ‘colleague’ instead. But surely this not-so-gentleman would prefer a virgin, if our female heroine – thus far – is one, as we assume.
Events happen between her and the aforementioned man. It’s clearly unwanted by her, and a kind of revelation about his money points to him also ‘not wanting it’. Perhaps a comeuppance is due to this male?!
Either way, we move briefly into cult territory as a blood bond [which I like to call a b-lond] is made by our heroine, reluctantly and with her female boss. This boss has a kind of power over our little female. So the bonding takes place… arms and blood together. I thought this strangely fearsome and apt, what with it being World AIDS Day  on this very day.
In steps our main male lead into the movie. He has his own problems, maybe sexual and definitely marital. He & she connect. They share intimate moments together, whilst he is supposed to be her ‘customer’. Is she crossing the line?
It’s fair to say though that not only is she a good listener for him but the woman also ‘arouses’ him in ways perhaps he’s not able to have been before.
Their connection leads him to him challenging her to meet his wife. Surely not. Is he insane? Well, by doing this it would make our little woman stronger and braver & indeed the potential for her being his [incidentally, known about by wifey] mistress could be strengthened.
Does she have the courage to face her competition?
INTERMISSION / COMMERCIAL BREAK:
Talking of (friendly) competition, here’s some – or many – words from ‘our sponsors’ [affiliates, similarians & connectees].
BACK TO THE MOVIE:
At this point it’s unclear as to her intentions or decision of whether to go to meet his wife. What we do see though is a trip to his family home himself and a rather amusing connection with all of his family, humorously executed… Not them, I mean the scene! It feels like a farewell to family. Although, as many positives and negatives he throws at both his spouse & dependants, it’s clear there is much affection for this family. Affection which has somehow lasted around 20 years! It feels very melancholic and sentimental whilst funny too.
Talking of negatives being verbally thrown, an amusing scene involving the wife performing a negativity test on him is interesting.
But what about little miss mistress? Avoiding many spoilers, I’ll say that at some point this mistress is introduced to his wife. It’s fair to say that it doesn’t go well, if still smile enducing at the same time.
[Speaking of smile, at some point around this time we are introduced to this girl’s cute almost sarcastic looking smile or smirk. Genius. The audience loved it. Me too. You can see evidence of it here in this poster…:]
Upon such a meeting of two women occuring, and indeed the family being present also, it gets a tad heated. Well, surely you saw that coming.
What you may not see coming is a load of females arriving, almost in her defence. Am I spoiling? No… As I feel the surprise is in ‘how’ these women turn up. There is almost brilliant and brief choreography as they are seen entering the scene. Add to this these characters and their almost cult-like togetherness & there is an air of awe plus a feeling of importance in our heroine. Imagine a kind of “don’t mess with me” factor, if you will.
To prevent things turning more ugly than they already seem, a bizarre gentlemans agreement… I mean, a mistresses agreement… is made.
In almost bizarre agreement by this man’s wife, the mistress follows and she is allowed to see him, at certain times and under particular conditions. Crazy conditions, one might think. Is his wife a health – or indeed, control – freak?!
Soon follows a great, cosy apartment scene:
A dimly lit dwelling, lightly luxurious.
Hmmm… What could cure any possible impotence Mr Kim may have?
Surely a massage may help. A humorous and half-musically performed one. I don’t mean that this girl sings whilst functioning as a masseuse, nor does she play an instrument during it. Obviously. Ok, not so obvious considering the brilliant absurdity of parts of the movie. She sure has a rhythmic and strangely comedic way of massaging. Yes in between certain moves (whilst they’re both fully dressed, I hasten to add) the girl cutely clicks her fingers. Hence a rythmically ‘orient-ated’ one. Asian pun intended.
Whether this guy is impotent or not, our woman is definitely incompetent at cookery. This is how it seems. She is humorous with it too though.
However, her cooking can’t be as bad as she may like to make out because Mr Kim begins to devour it upon being instructed to do so. So much so that his food-eating almost competes with – and when – being beckoned to bed. Although at one point I envisaged him taking the food into bed with them. His actions are not far from this though.
For certain reasons this loved up cheating couple decide to give up the latter mentioned apartment. The cheated on, but strangely approving wife, plays a part in such a decision.
So, what must a new dwelling include?
Mice? A baby? What…? A baby?! Perhaps both a baby WITH an unhealthy liking for mice… Believe what you want because whatever the real story which unfolds is, I’d have a hard time convincing you!
We do witness a cringe-inducing splatter of tiny rodents. Yes, there is a ruthless animal killer in one of our cheating couple. Of course, that’s not to say that it isn’t necessary under the circumstances.
A shocking mini-mini-human find is almost overshadowed by such murderous rodent actions. This finding is not only shocking but yet another strand of randomness that appears to take over this second half of the film. It’s almost as if we are in some bizarre dream sequence around this time.
The latter is also demonstrated a few times when a character will just appear at a residence not of their own. People DO bat an eyelid – to play with a well known saying – but it’s always a fleeting surprised reaction.
I forget the exact timing but I guess it’s time for another one of her Funny-face-and-cute-snarl-come-smiles!
This is as good a time as any to mention the acting. In my opinion, good all round & from ALL the cast. Even a baby. There are a couple of scenes where not only the baby’s reactions are perfect but also its actions. Look out for one where a mouse is spotted and picked up this youngster. Another to note is one where the baby – perhaps more toddler-like – descends into a lower area. To me, the latter honestly doesn’t look like any adult has played a part in assisting. Pretty unbelievable and especially for this movie’s time. It’s 1973!!
Some of the ‘real’ and presumably non-special-effect shots we do witness probably wouldn’t be allowed nowadays and would almost definitely be aided by CGI or the like.
Visually, I feel this film is both Exquisite & Experimental. The colours & shots. I particularly liked a piece featuring a glass table with edible beads (!), shot from below. Sex involved? Definitely kinky – unlike the kink-free and purely untarnished & varnished glass table.
Chuck in mention of Vasectomy, Vixens, Vice, Victims and a Vampires… Yes a vampire… And you really do have a muddled but brilliant film by Kim Ki-young.
Being a film by Kim Ki-young, I couldn’t help make comparisons with his classic (and the original) “The Housemaid”. A couple of comparisons, please? OK… Firstly, The existence and use of a piano by one character. Secondly, mice… So, ok… not rats but I could see the vermin connection. Indeed you could too!
It could also be compared to the Japanese film of the same name… but compared to by name alone as they are different films, and indeed the Japanese one was around a decade before this one.
INdeed or INsect, I was praying (mantis*) that the film would end on ‘that smirk’. *A sneaky reference to an Insect? Well, it is said that kids experiment on animals & INsects INschool – I wouldn’t know, I didn’t go [*laughs*] – but I’ve avoided punning on such creatures in this review, right up until now anyway. I’ve just done my best and tried to ‘dissect’ the film the only way I know how!
Feel free to find the following Mini Mini Movie, & other Mini-er Movies (i.e. Trailers; Snippets) at:
“The INdent or Ident Woman”
First and Foremost [although almost Last in this article!], many thanks to the Korean Cultural Centre, London for arranging to have so many wonderful, diverse and interesting films showing at their venue – ALL movies screened there are FREE to anyone who books and attends.
Mini Mini Movie’s entry Tweet Tweview [Yes, you too can Tweet a review to win a brand new DVD – something the KCC offer after every screening!]…:
“@koreanfilmfest @KCCUK Be Smitten by the main Star’s Smirky, Snarly, Sneaky Smile. Yes, imagine that as film’s tagline”
Before I go…:
2 items which you simply must be aware of are these.
Yes, the yearly KCC-arranged “London Korean Film Festival”. Details of the very latest one can be found here at the brilliant Hangul Celluloid website:
You see, as well as arranging the brilliant and aforementioned film festival, the KCC also put on other film-related events.
Not only this, they recently celebrated their 100th film night. The night was also part of this marvellous ’12 Directors’ year long event – Details Elsewhere. Where? The ‘Otherwhere’ website:
That’s all Folks! I’ll leave you with the fabulous trailer for the LKFF!