I’ve watched some pretty sexual, taboo-breaking movies in my day (The Dreamers, In the Realm of the Senses, Visitor Q, etc.), so I would say that I’m pretty used to explicit and strange sex on film. Now I can add Lies (Korean title: Gojitmal) to my list of sexually-intense movies.
I would also add that all of these movies (in addition to tamer American ones such as 9 1/2 Weeks and Secretary to the list) seem to have the same moral message: If sex becomes the primary focus of your life and you forget about things such as your job and friends, only trouble will come. In the end, it is impossible to sustain a hyper-passionate physical relationship with someone… So while these movies may seem subversive and whatnot on the outside, I think that they ultimately suggest a more conservative message and theme.
That said, on to Lies:
This movie was based on (what is, as far as I can tell) an autobiographical story that takes place in South Korea and is about two lovers involved in an sado-masochistic relationship. The man, J, is 38 years old and married (though his wife is a non-character, as she is off-screen in Paris all the time — except for J’s infrequent visits to her). The woman, Y, is an 18 year old school girl.
The film opens with the director telling (in a documentary-like format) that the film is based on a story and that he wanted to make it into a movie — or something like that. When I first saw this part, I wasn’t sure if it was a making-of before the film started or whether it was part of the movie or a disclaimer. To be honest, it made me uncomfortable — a perfect setup for a movie like Lies.
Y meets J because Y’s friend Woori somehow knows J (it’s never clear how they met, though it is clear that they didn’t have sex). Y speaks to J on the phone and is so enamored by his voice that she tells him that she wants to fuck him. She then takes the train to wherever he lives and they awkwardly meet.
Again, the film cuts-away to a documentary-styled interview with either Y or the actress who plays Y. An off-screen male voice asks her how she feels about doing the film. She says that she doesn’t like to be naked. She also says that regardless of her fears, she will go ahead with the movie because she doesn’t want to let the crew down and ruin the movie.
Then the interview ends and we return to the film.
Back in the motel room, J and Y begin to have sex. When they first kiss, it’s somewhat disgusting and juvenile. J uses way too much tongue and Y obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing (as a virgin, I’m guessing she hasn’t ever kissed, either?) — or maybe they are both uncomfortable? They make it over to the bed quickly. J asks Y if she is sure that she wants to do this, and she says yes — he is making her feel good.
The first time they have sex, he penetrates three holes: first her vagina, then her mouth, and finally her asshole. The sex during the first encounter is the most explicit in the film. There is no background music. All we see and hear is them having sex. He licks her body, he eats her pussy, he licks her ass — we see it all. We even see his penis, which is pretty rare for any movie containing nudity — and we see it often. His penis isn’t present in one dominating and dramatic shot (like penises usually are when they appear in film), but it’s soft and very typical looking. I was, obviously, surprised by this.
Also, at one point during the sex scene, while J is licking Y’s armpit (and he tells her that it doesn’t smell), there is a strange self-aware moment where the director (or someone) says to J: “She doesn’t smell, like the devil. Maybe she is the devil?” The whole thing was very weird, and isn’t really addressed anywhere else in the film. It’s worth mentioning and noticing, though, because I do think that one of the goals of the film was to blur the boundaries between art film, pornographic film, and documentary.
Following the sex, there is an “interview” where J asks Y why she wanted to have sex with him. Her answer was maybe one of the most shocking parts of the movie: she explains that both of her sisters lost their virginity through rape. She reasoned that she didn’t want to lose her virginity by rape, so she would choose her first sexual partner. Wow. Just the reality of thinking that way struck me. What an awful way to decide to have sex for the first time.
After their first encounter, Y returns home and is beat-up by her friend Woori, who is very jealous. Eventually they make up, and Y tells Woori all of the explicit details of her sexual encounter with J.
So turned on by their first meeting, J and Y continue meeting. Eventually, during one of the times J is fucking her up the ass, he slaps her. The narrator (who is sometimes J and sometimes the director [I think?]) notes that J used to slap his wife until she said she had enough of it and moved to Paris. Unlike J’s wife, however, Y seems to take pleasure from J’s slaps.
The slaps quickly escalate to whipping and flagellation. Originally, J always takes the sadist role and Y takes the masochistic one. I guess you could say that the pain inflicted during the sex escalates. Y has some pretty nasty cuts and scars on her ass and thighs. We also learn that J used to whip his wife and ultimately wanted to turn her into a sculpture basically. That is when she left for Paris.
Although their relationship starts with Y always taking the masochistic role, the tables turn and J is eventually the one getting whipped by Y. The switch is prompted by Y making a comment that she doesn’t take pleasure from the whipping, per say, but rather in the fact that it gives J pleasure — giving him pleasure gives her pleasure. When Y whips J, however, it is obvious that receiving the pain gives him pleasure — not the fact that Y enjoys giving him pain.
Their sexual exploits continue until J has to return to Paris to visit his wife. When he returns three months later, Y reveals that while he was away she gave another man a blowjob. When he gets angry, she argues that she missed his cock and that he was fucking his wife anyway so why could he have sex and she couldn’t? Finally, she suggests that he should punish her for her transgressions.
The scene that follows is, I think, the most violent and difficult to watch scene of the film. When she bends over to receive a whipping, J slaps her in a very non-sensual way (yes, there is a difference). He is taking out his anger and frustration — not trying to enjoy pleasure or give her pleasure. Y is privy to this fact. She cries out and falls over and tries to block the whipping with her hands. He continues to beat her despite her pleas for him to stop and her cries of pain.
After beating her, J proceeds to rape her anally. When she begs that he stops and warns that she needs to take a shit, he continues anyway. As warned, she defecates while he’s fucking her. He takes his dick out and tells her to suck it and clean it off. She hesitates, but obliges, fearful, I’m sure, by his new turn toward violence. After giving a blowjob to his shit-cover cock, J tells her not to swallow and to kiss her. A narrator’s voiceover tells us that he (J) realized why shit was disgusting: it didn’t have a taste (sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, etc.).
The next scene finds J and Y in a subway acting flirtatious and lovey with each other again. Y tells J that she now realizes that he truly loves her. In what has to be one of the best lines ever, she says: “I know now you really love me. Who else would eat my shit?” (or something to that effect). So ask yourself, if someone tells you that they love you, can you really be sure until they eat your shit?
From that point on, basically, J and Y tumble into a life of nonstop sex. J looses his house and spends all of his money paying for places for him and Y to fuck. Y drops out of school and abandons her family. The two of them live only to have sex with each other — nothing else matters.
This path, as I mentioned early in this review, is not sustainable, and ultimately things don’t really work out. I won’t go into too much detail since it’s interesting to see what happens (and, really, from the beginning you must know that they can’t spend the rest of their lives fucking without abandon). I will say, however, that the end, for me, was pretty disappointing. In the last scene we find out what the title of the film, Lies, refers to, and it isn’t deep or profound or very meaningful.
Overall, I think Lies is worth watching because it’s so shocking. The first sex scene is like nothing I’ve seen in contemporary film — it is explicit and awkward: not sexy at all. There are also a few intertextual moments (like the interview of the actress playing Y and the director and the “The devil doesn’t smell” comment) that really force the audience to ask whether the movie is exploitative or what.