On returning home one day Lee Jeok-yo, a revered poet and author in his 70s, and his student, Ji-woo, for whom Lee has recently ghost-written a novel, stumble upon a beautiful teenage girl, Eun-gyo, asleep on a porch chair. Both seem surprised to see her, but also fascinated by her presence. She is soon brought back to the older man’s home by Ji-woo, with the intention of her helping out around the house. However, Eun-gyo soon comes to play a much more pivotal role of both men’s lives than that of a household maid. As Jeok-yo begins to enjoy the time he spends with Eun-gyo, as she does with him; their relationship develops and provokes confusion and envy in Ji-woo, whose childish response only forces him further out of Jeok-yo’s favour. Inevitably, something akin to a love triangle evolves and the growing tension between the characters reaches a dramatic and unexpected conclusion.
Loneliness is a strong theme throughout EUN-GYO, with each character a victim. Jeok-yo is mourning his lost youth and laments the fact that his age, morality, prevents him from assuaging his lonesomeness through a more intimate relationship with Eun-gyo. Lee escapes his 70 year old body and fantasises about himself as a young man pursuing the teenage Eun-gyo, playing out love scenes made more acceptable by the closing of the age gap. However, on waking from his fantasies, he is plunged back into solitude and his ageing self. Ji-woo longs to be considered a serious talent by the literary world which is so enamoured with Jeok-yo; he is marginalised and seen as merely the student of a great man, causing him great frustration. When his connection to Lee, and the literary circles in which he is so revered, is threatened by Eun-gyo, Ji-woo resorts to desperate measures and risks destroying his relationship with Jeok-yo permanently. Eun-gyo endures the abuse of her mother and seeks solace in the company of the elderly poet she so admires, yet societal ideals forbid her from forming the kind of bonds she is longing for.
The trio battle against their impediments, and each other, and as the tension in the group continues to rise, the actions of the individuals become more extreme. Through their fight to combat loneliness they risk isolating themselves to an even greater extent.
The three actors all excel, portraying their characters’ frustration and sadness with great intensity. Lee Jeok-yo is played by young actor, Park Hae-il, who was forced to undergo 8 hours of prosthetic work in order to play the older man and portrayal of Jeok-yo’s dismay at his ageing body really resonates deeply. Kim Go-eun is a talent to look out for in the future; a first time actress, she manages to maintain an air of innocence in Eun-gyo despite sexual attention she generates from both male characters. She gives the character emotional depth and bravely tackles some relatively graphic sex scenes which apparently caused a great deal of controversy in Korea.
On the surface EUN-GYO is an erotic drama and inappropriate love story, but, aided by brilliant performances by his lead actors, Jung Ji-woo manages to reveal a more subtle story of a search for companionship underneath the sex and controversy. A touching tale of complex relationships which delivers more than may be expected.
Review by @Charlobot