Thursday, May 25, 2006

Oh Ji-ho and The Silver Knife

Oh Ji Ho and The Silver Knife (Eunjangdo - 2003)
A Culture Clash
By A. Murray
26 April 2006

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The Silver Knife is funny, though it has been compared to "Sex is Zero", and came up wanting according to the party commenting, with whom I disagree. I think it holds its own pretty well, and I really like the cast.

This movie introduced me to Yun Da-hun's charm. He’s a good actor and a very funny man. Another new face for me at the time I bought The Silver Knife, was the fantastic Song Jae-ho.

As the father of Min-seo, he is impossible; an entrenched Confucian in heart and soul. He is dictatorial, and hard to get along with except when it comes to consorting with his peers---the other village elders. Then, all present are in accord. That accord does not spill over into the family dynamics.

Min-seo lives with her family in Andong. The most precious family treasures, in the eyes of her Confucian father, are the Yeolnyeomun (gate of virtue) which is part of the historic site occupied by the family, and the eunjangdo (silver knife), both symbols of a woman's chastity. The Yeolnyeomun, a perpetual reminder, is located conveniently just outside the house.

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At the age of twelve, upon reaching womanhood, Min-seo is solemnly given the gift of a small ornamental silver knife by her father, with the admonishment that she is now responsible for her continued purity. Virginal she is, and virginal she will remain. She (also solemnly), accepts the knife, and the obligation it carries. She takes her responsibility so seriously, that she even layers herself with extra underwear to prevent any possible opportunity for assault against her state of grace. Her schoolmates, on discovering this, chide her for it mercilessly, but she remains staunchly faithful to tradition.

Fast forward to Min-seo desiring to go to college, in, of all damnable places, the great wicked city of Seoul. From home to perdition in one small leap. Her father flat out refuses to allow it of course, saying among other things, "Seoul corrupts the mind".

Aided by her mother, who doesn't want Min-seo to live the life she herself must live, and by her brother who feels the same way, she manages to leave home. The departure scene is very amusing, with the mother in a physical grappling match against the father, who is nearly foaming at the mouth in rage. The term, "going ballistic" fits here nicely.

Min-seo's train ride to Seoul is not without incident. She handles it with great aplomb…and her trusty silver knife. Of course.

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The sex scenes are all very, very funny.

There's a sexy dance contest, during which Oh Ji-ho once again strips down to the nitty-gritty, wearing only a dinner plate as protection from chilly drafts.

There's a condom scene between two other characters, which takes place in the back seat of a car that is utterly bizarre, and therefore priceless.

Oh Ji-ho is Ju-haek, the smitten boyfriend who is dying to get into the (now figurative) much layered underwear of the pristine Min-seo. He is the soul of chivalry and protectiveness coming undone in the grip of young lust. He plots and schemes alone, or with the help of his friends, trying to come up with a plan that will land him between the sheets with his ice princess. The situations arrived at are so ridiculous, you have to sit and laugh at them.

There are other characters always either getting it on, or trying to with mixed results that are invariably weird and funny as hell.

This is over-blown comedy done with a heavy hand, and I can't think of any people other than the Korean filmmakers who could do it so well. They have a certain special kind of touch.

Toward the end of the movie, Ju-haek makes an impassioned statement that is quite powerful, decrying the tradition of the silver knife, which was as often used for committing suicide after dishonor, as it may have been to defend honor by turning it upon the man who attempted intimacy. Oh Ji-ho shines in this sequence, and you see his potential, as yet unexpressed elsewhere. (2003)

There is also a scene of tenderness between Ju-haek and Min-seo that takes place on a bridge, which will touch any heart that allows itself to be reached by a simple act of caring that says, this is love, doing something like this is what makes love real.

If you are looking for a basically jolly movie with strange characters, a lot of sexual innuendo, and buffoonery galore (a specialty of Oh Ji-ho's), this is it.

Click image to enlarge.

The Silver Knife is available at:
HK Flix (Korean [region-0] and Hong Kong [region-3] versions.

Also published at:
The Hyacinth Papers

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