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Bad Guy ... Good Film
on 15 February 2006
I saw this film shortly after seeing the same director's The Isle and was much more affected by this production, although they are both striking works. Like the earlier film, Bad Guy is a tale of obsession between lovers who exist on the edge of human relations, and features some disturbing scenes. There's a sado-masochistic thread common in those Ki-duk Kim's films I have seen which some viewers will, understandably, find controversial. The major characters are isolated, one is tempted to say insulated, from humanity, and develop their own fiercely peculiar interactions. There's the exploited lake girl (also a whore) who tends the pontoon huts in The Isle, miles from civilisation, and the murderer who seeks his hideout on the water. There's the student held as prostitute, imprisoned in her booth, and the largely mute brothel thug who falls for her, frequently stuck admiringly behind his viewing glass. These are people apart from the rest of the world by reason of misfortune or status, who hold our attention as they eventually come together.
Unlike the animal cruelty and fish hook fetishism exhibited in The Isle, Bad Guy's principal talking point lies in the changing relationship between an unwilling whore and her abductors. Bad Guy's victim is 'hooked' against her will just as securely as are the fish in The Isle. Inveigled into prostitution after a tough guy develops a romantic fixation on her in the street, she gradually comes to accept her new condition in life, the advances of her captor and even grows to 'like' being in the arms of her customers. I use inverted commas for this word as the idea that a woman can gradually enjoy her forced acquiescence into moral degradation, and enter into a voluntary relationship with a tormentor, is debatable to say the least.
There's a scene in the film which neatly describes the dilemma. The thug spends his first night with his love, an unconsummated encounter after which she sleeps on the floor beside him. She has been intimidated, then reassured, he ardent yet constrained by his feelings. First thing next morning he rises, studies her room, and spends a moment on straightening a nail in her wall. Through his one way mirror set in the wall, he has previously seen her at her most pathetic trying, unsuccessfully, to hang up a garment. Clearly this brief DIY is a moment of loving thought, out of place in any black and white view of their peculiar relationship. In fact Bad Guy is full of moments of tenderness, aided greatly by the plaintive melody of the score and the intense chemistry between the two leads. One superbly staged scene is where the two kiss through the one-way glass, she unaware of his secret response to her longing, at least until his lighter flame belatedly flickers his visage into view later. Another is as she resignedly dons a trashy wig and applies thick lipstick. He looks on again in secret, aghast at her depression, unable ' or unwilling - to interfere. Far from being a vicious peeping tom, by this stage he is practically a protector, transfixed by an obsession, as a couple of times he even dashes in to rescue her from unwanted advances. Fresh from a brutal world, the mute is not violent to his ward, nor does he rape her, and by the end of the film his possession is less physical than it is emotional. Add to this on the one occasion he speaks the sudden sound of his high pitched voice, (vocal chords presumably damaged by a conspicuous throat injury) so aptly suggestive of a eunuch's speech, and the nature of his character can be seen quite differently.
Outside of this central relationship, one might nit-pick at less than satisfactory plot points. How the thug recovers so abruptly from life-threatening wounds for instance, or his spell in prison, during which legal processes seems to take no time at all (by reference to an extended fantasy is the usual answer, an occurrence which further undermines the allegations of misogyny). Or the girl's prompt location of the missing parts of the photograph, itself symbolic of her fractured relationships, beneath a considerable expanse of anonymous sand at the beach, and so on. (Ki-duk Kim's use of the shore line as an emotional 'no-man's zone' incidentally reminds one of the importance of such moments in Takeshi Kitano's oeuvre.) The overall impression however is of quite an achievement, and one which is perhaps more mature about the unpredictable nature of love and attraction than the director has been earlier. In short, Bad Guy is no bad film, and despite some misgivings about the moral premise of the piece, one well worth seeing.