Dir. Lee Jyong. S Kor 2006. 103mins.
Going to see Lee Jyong's latestventure on the strength of his previous work Untold Scandal, a highly stylised periodrelocation of Dangerous Liaisons, is a serious mistake. Dasepo's Naughty Girls, a high-school romp, is a world away from thebeautifully-shot historical pageant which toured the world and broke box-officerecords at home.
Wild, lusty, anarchic and colourful, it may be, but this unpredictable and lewdfeature is also messy, disorganised and often silly.Based on a popular web cartoon (Multi-CellGirl) which has already been spun off into a series of TV shorts directedby different directors with different cast, it hopes to shock first andentertain second - but the resilience of today's audiences may work against it.
Intercut with rosy and pink musical numbers, Lee'shodge-podge of mini-plots, which seem to have been inspired by American Pie, Scream and Eyes Wide Shut amongothers, is a pretty bewildering product which has not really struck a chord athome. Whether audiences further afield will reactdifferently remains to be seen, but short of some critics latching on to anumber of socio-political comments, it is hard to imagine a market that willembrace Dasepo's Naughty Girls beyond very cult or nichecrowds (although word is it may appear at a major European festival in early2007).
Dasepo's Naughty Girls is an ensemble piece that, at least for the firstcouple of minutes, resembles an American coming-of-age movie as its adolescentsfrolic in class. But then they open their mouths and it soon turns into a farmore verbally explicit, if visually quite chaste, parody of the genre.
The high school where muchof it takes place is called Musseulmo, which inKorean means "useless", although the teachers there are certainly willing toshare a lot with their students, including sexual permissiveness andperversity. Sex is the only thing the occupies the establishment's staff andstudents as they discuss it to death, once in a while bursting into song aboutit, the lyrics appearing on screen should the audience wish to join in.
The opening sequence gives aflavour of what is to come as a rumoursweeps the school that one teacher's absence is down to a sexual disease. The entireclass rushes out in dismay to the nearest chemist, just in case they had sexwith the afflicted or any of their partners.
The many characters onscreen don't even need names, as each is planted there to fill another smallcorner of the large fresco. There is the Poor Girl (Kim Ok-bin), who knows thatvirginity won't pay the many bills and that sooner or later she will have toprostitute herself; the handsome and narcissistic Anthony (the only one with anactual name), who catalogues his conquests like Don Juan, until he falls inlove with another male; and Cyclops (Lee Kyun) a one-eyedstudent shunned by all, whose gorgeous sister (Sung Eun)turns out to be a transsexual. Meanwhile the large, corpulent police inspector (LeeWon-jung) is a transvestite,gallivanting around in a girl sailor's suite.
There is a also mystery plotconcerning the principal, who turns every girl invited into his office into aprim and prissy little do-gooder, intent only on going to college (which is ofcourse is bad for class morale).
Aside from school life Lee Jyong also caricatures the relationships between parentsand kids, trying to make profound statements about how existence is akin to asoap opera. He also spoofs multi-denominational education, remarks on the lackof national pride in the young generation, puts a Yeats poem to music and hasthe students marching to Tchaikovsky's PianoConcerto.
The result is a free-for-allwithout a story, which has no real beginning or end, lacking a cogent script orthe necessary star power that might have helped, especially commercially. Theyoung cast, many novices, give it their all and more -and overacting is a pre-requisite in a work like this.
Yet as irreverent as itattempts to be, Dasepo's Naughty Girls takes far less risks thanmight be expected, if only because most decency codes do not mind implication butdraw the line at on-screen portrayal.
Cinematography and editingprove almost impossible, given the variety of episodes stacked up one atop theother, and only partially keep it all in perspective.
S Korean distribution
Choi Jin Sung, based on theweb cartoon by Chae Jung-taek