Dir: Sun-Woo Jang
This is the first in our series of films about relationships which concentrate on the sexual component of the relationship.
The four films chosen were all considered shocking at the time of release, and attracted outrage, censorship, and even legal action.
When the first Obscenity Act was debated in Parliament, the Lord Chief Justice referred to the London pornography trade as 'a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic'.The Act defined obscenity as having a 'tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.' This was knows as the Hicklin test.
It was up to the courts to interpret this definition. It was often argued by opponents of censorship that since the judges had to see the material that was being charged with obscenity, and since they presumably emerged undepraved and uncorrupted, the material couldn't be obscene. Britain did not see gangs of wigged and robed judges out raping.
It is surely true that if love, war, revenge, death, and murder are all suitable subjects for exploration in film, then sex should also be an appropriate topic. It is indeed a primary motivator of human behaviour, and I'm sure that if an assexual race of aliens were to ever study Earth, one of the things they would find most extraordinary and interesting is that in spite of our intellectual ambitions, much of human existence is driven by sex.
Whilst sex is an obvious candidate for cinematic exploration, filmmakers have always faced two obstacles.
The first and most obvious obstacle is censorship.
Why is it that so many societies are threatened by the frank and open exploration of sex?
Darwin argued that certain things we do are private because when doing them we are exposed and vulnerable to attack - including sleeping, having sex, defecating.
Another view, to put it crudely, is that if you were banging Jessica Alba in a public place, it would attract a crowd, general sexual arousal, jealousy, and utter chaos, that society would break down. So, humans have learned to take Jessica Alba to a short-time hotel instead.
It is also interesting that often censorship of all things, including sexual openness are a symptom of a repressive government. Maybe real freedom does not start with the right to vote or the right to bear arms, but the right to access porntube.com. (I actually made that website up, but I thought I should check if it existed, so typed it in, and discovered rather appropriately that it does indeed exist and is blocked by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, which is based at the 'Government Complex Commemorating His Majesty the Kings 80th Birthday'. (please note that they have missed out an apostrophe))
Salman Rushdie, who loves to pick a fight on just about any issue, waded in with this:
"Pornography... sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even civilisation… It may be that more permissive societies have less need for porn, and certainly they don`t need to turn blue movies into icons of revolution or peace ...
If the restrictions on ordinary social, romantic and sexual relations that [less permissive] societies impose were to wither away, the need for pornography would very likely diminish, too ... If Western pornography is a symptom of Western decadence, then Eastern pornography is a side-effect of Eastern repressions. Pornography is almost always an effect, or a dramatic symptom of some non-pornographic social malaise. It is almost never a cause."
Dušan Makavejev's 1971 film 'W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism' (not 'Orgasm' as often misquoted) saw sexual freedom as a form of revolution, and linked political repression with sexual repression.
The second reason that it is difficult for film-makers to explore sex is I think a simple one. If you make a film with explicit sex scenes, a large percentage of viewers will simply fast forward through all the boring scenes to get to the scenes of bonking. The director's complex exploration of sex as part of human relationships will be edited to be just a physical act.
The film 'Lust Caution' is a good example of a film which became famous mainly because of its explicit sex scenes. Much of the publicity and controversy around it related to these scenes. In fact, it apparently was also a tense espionage thriller. I'm not sure because I never saw those scenes.
I don't know much about the human brain, but I'm entirely sure that when we are sexually aroused, or having sex, much of the brain switches off. That is the only explanation I can come up with as to why an ex-girlfriend used to always call me 'Tim' when we made love.
Sadly, the subtleties of sexual politics, influence on relationships, and nuances of the bedroom often become titillation, and the artistic pretensions of a film-maker simply become pornography.
When "I am Curious (Yellow)" was played in small, dark Soho cinemas in the late sixties, I am fairly sure it was not for the patrons to see a landmark of Swedish, left-wing New Wave cinema.
But directors still try with varying levels of success to tackle this obstacle.
Our first film 'Lies' was adapted from a South Korean novel by Jang Jung-il that was banned immediately after publication in 1996 and earned the author several months in prison.
It explores an intense S&M sexual relationship between a high-school girl and a middle-aged man.
South Korea still has amongst the longest military service periods in the world. In the past, military training was notoriously tough. Brutal beatings were administered as punishment.
The use of corporal punishment was also widespread in schools.
Thus, it has been claimed that this created an underground culture of sadomasochism. In 2007, there was controversy when a group of high-school students were arrested for forming an online club about sadomasochism.
'Lies' was banned in Korea, and only when it played in film festivals around the world, could the director claim that it had artistic value, and it was released in a censored version in Korea.
It is a great example of the fine line that film-makers walk between art and pornography. Fourteen years after it was made, the scenes of sadomasochism remain some of the most graphic and realistic that have been put on film.
It features the debut performances of both its lead actors, and the film cuts to interviews with the actors themselves about their feelings on being in the film.