Director – Lee Jae-kyoo – 2018 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 115m
Four couples attend a dinner party where a game with mobile phones threatens to revel all their intimate secrets – online from 2pm Friday, November 6th to 2pm Monday, November 9th, book here, from the Special Focus: Friends and Family strand of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) taking place right now
A group of male friends since childhood and their wives and girlfriends meet for a house-warming of one of their number. One of the wives suggests a game. Why don’t they all put their mobile phones on the table and share any call, text, email or data that comes in?
Actually, it turns out there are some very good reasons why not – as they will all discover during the course of the evening. Indeed, the film’s final five minutes or so (and, strangely, this is not a spoiler) shows the couples driving home separately and contentedly after a pleasant evening where they wisely declined to play the game. All’s right with the world.
However, in between that coda and the opening, 34 years earlier prologue in which the four men’s childhood selves catch fish through a hole in the ice of a frozen river then spend the evening together round a camp fire in the dark, the four couples do indeed play this game at the present day house-warming.
What follows frighteningly demonstrates the amount of information about ourselves most of us (and all the characters here) now carry around, send and receive on our mobile phones pertaining to our sexual, financial and interior lives al reflected in the verbal.
The hosts are cosmetic surgeon Seok-ho (Cho Jin-woong from The Handmaiden / Ah-ga-ssi, Park Chan-wook, 2016, Bluebeard / Haebing, Lee Soo-youn, 2017 and A Dirty Carnival / Biyeolhan Geori, Yoo Ha, 2006) and his wife Ye-jin (Kim Ji-soo). He works mainly on breast implants for women which is lucrative enough to enable him to build a hospital on land he’s bought. She shows the other wives the designer bath they’ve had installed. (Growing up in a country where healthcare is free, I don’t particularly like characters who profit from professions like this.)
Tae-soo (Yoo Hae-jin from 1987: When The Day Comes / 1987, Jang Joon-Hwan, 1987, and A Taxi Driver / Taeksi woonjunsa, Jang Hun, 1987) is a lawyer seemingly always busy with paperwork. His wife Soo-hyun (Yum Jung-ah from A Tale of Two Sisters / Janghwa, Hongryeon, Kim Jee-woon, 2003) feels ignored, but has found a refuge in a poetry class she attends. She often recites poetry to her husband, but he’s not really interested so they’ve grown apart.
Joon-mo (Lee Seo-jin) is always trying business schemes that generally don’t end well. He is currently runing a restaurant. He and his wife Se-kyung (Song Ha-yoon) have an active, healthy sex life which feels a bit too good to be true. Finally Young-bae (Yoon Kyung-ho), a teacher who has been made redundant, turns up alone because his girlfriend is ill.
None of the women is in employment and all seem defined by their spouses. Worse, they’re all having marital problems of one sort or another – they have unfaithful husbands, they’ve embarked on affairs or they just plain feel neglected. The four men, too, harbour a host of secrets. All these hidden elements of their lives will be out in the open by the end of the evening (the film’s coda notwithstanding).
By turns funny and compelling, this drama cleverly uses our present day reliance on technology as a vehicle to explore the many pitfalls of modern life. It’s unashamedly populist and adapted from Italian movie Perfect Strangers / Perfetti Sconosciuti, (Paolo Genevese, 2016). The seven characters between them feel like a representative slice of South Korean society and although extremely entertaining, the film is full of sharp observations of the many things that can go wrong with ordinary people’s lives and relationships. You’ll want to attend this house-warming as a fly on the wall, but you’ll be glad you weren’t any of the characters involved.
Intimate Strangers plays online from 2pm Friday, November 6th to 2pm Monday, November 9th, book here, as part of the Special Focus: Friends and Family strand of the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) taking place right now.
LKFF 2020 trailer: