And here I thought Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's My Man (2014) is already daring enough with its own lolita take given that Fumi Nikaido also plays a young girl in love with an older man who is actually her relative.
Maybe that sounds worse than a 70-year-old lusting over a 17-year-old but I say that Eungyo (or A Muse) is more daring because the scenes are more graphic and explicit, it almost seems like 10 minutes of soft porn. And given that Nikaido (only 20 then and didn't do a whole frontal nude) had prior acting experience, Kim Go-Eun did not (only 21 then, did a whole frontal nude).
I go with the comparisons given the lolita approach and the young age of the actresses and their characters. My Man had straight up skinship and intimate, sexual scenes but definitely not as graphic or explicit as Eungyo. Hence, still a sense of reservation even if the two leads are actually in love with each other.
Eungyo is daring. While the main focus might go to its controversial subject and explicitly, to me, the film is ultimately about loneliness. That is not saying that it normalizes pedophilia or whatsoever. The film is not meant to answer that. You, as viewers, can decide that on your own.
While My Man is filled with similar themes, it tries to make you feel colder towards its characters, added by the fact that it was filmed in Hokkaido.
But Eungyo. Eungyo warms you up. Eungyo is like a confluence. On one hand, there is warmth. There is purity. There is longing. On the other hand, there is disgust. There is the swelling in your stomach like you want to throw up. Then they meet and clash and you feel a little bit of both.
Jung Ji-woo establishes Lee Jeok-yo's played by Park Hae II (who is actually in his late 30s) loneliness very early in the film. The opening sequence of his house, of a portrait of him when he was young, of him in his office, of his rice cooker, of him eating alone, of him falling asleep in the chair of his study all say one thing about him: he is old and alone and lonely.
On the other hand, 17-year-old Eungyo has an abusive mother. She, too, as she confesses later on, is lonely, despite her energetic and lucid nature.
Jeok-yo's semi-assistant, semi-protege, Seo Ji Woo (played by Kim Mu Yeol) is an engineering major who respects, admires and looks up to his mentor and only longs for his recognition, which to his demise, does not really get. He wants to write but has no talent. He lives in an apartment by himself and has become a mask of his mentor. He, too, is lonely.
Thus, I see Eungyo more as a film about loneliness.
Filled with beautiful cinematography, heart-warming soundtrack and poetic narration, it's difficult not to appreciate it despite its controversial subject matter. Even Jeok-yo's very sexual dreams are shot beautifully in bright colors, nostalgic tone and over a pile of books, you too, are suck into this seduction.
Just like her character, Eungyo, Go-Eun shines. This being her debut role, only acting previously in school dramas, she is the sunshine of this film. Playing an innocent, flirty but to an extent, seductive Eungyo is no joke for a 21-year-old with no film experience.
She captures the emotions, the movement and the smile (oh gosh, the smile) that Eungyo embodies. She plays an enhancing and an irritating lolita. Eungyo is a character that longs affection and to me, sees Jeok-yo more as a father figure (probably even a case of Electra Complex) more than a lover.
Eungyo started off well. But the second half, almost as it reaches its end, it becomes a more revenge-driven cliche story than what it first intended to be.
That sad, the ending monologue between the main characters is powerful.
I wished they have chosen an older actor to play a 70-year-old character than put Hae II in heavy make-up. Maybe that very idea sickens them that they couldn't do it too. Nevertheless, Hae II played his character, twice his age well, even spending hours to observe the eldery prior to his role. The way he moves, walks and even talks are convincing but it's being covered in make-up that doesn't.