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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Little Black Dress (Mai Beulraek Minideureseu) 2011

I missed out on a chance to see Little Black Dress earlier this year in March when it was playing at the CGV cinemas in Los Angeles.  It wasn’t a question of missed opportunities and previous engagements, it just didn’t appeal to me.  Considering that it is a no-holds-barred chick flick this is understandable.  For most men, what springs to mind when thinking of ‘chick flicks’, is a bevy of wretched romcoms.  Romance films are often considered chick flicks but I can’t say that I agree with that as a catch-all term.  ‘Bad’ romance films are chick flicks, rather, they are bad chick flicks, because there are plenty of good films aimed at women.

At the Jewelry store
However, Hollywood frequently makes films that are squarely aimed at the female demographic and, just like they splatter the screen with blood, guts, and naked women to draw in men, chick flicks highlight some of the worst female stereotypes and are nebulous, shallow, and consumerist orgies which belie the industry’s misogynistic nature.  Romance, when done well, as often is the case with Korean cinema, is universally appealing.  Though it is probably fair to say that it still weighs towards the fairer sex. Little Black Dress, very much like its Hollywood counterparts, is crass, consumerist, shallow, and directionless. However, it is also quite enjoyable.

Against my better judgment and my natural instincts, viewing Little Black Dress was a surprisingly pleasant experience.  The question is why? After the first ten minutes I had the impression that I was in for a long ride.  The pettiness and the brand worshipping were enough to severely put me off.  It was also impossible for me to feel any sympathy for these four pretty privileged girls as they struggled through their wearisome daily trials.  It was like Sex and the City (a very good show) without the wit, which in effect made it like Entourage (a not so good show that I nevertheless stuck with through to the end).  In fact it is very much like the latter, vain, narcissistic fluff that is never engaging but always watchable.

After a night out
So what happened after those first ten minutes?  How did I begin to enjoy the film?  Did a story kick in?  Was there a monumental event that occurred?  Did the two-tone caricatures blossom into characters?  No.  I suppose you could say that I got used to it.  It showed me exactly what it was with its opening salvo, and therefore it limited my expectations.  What it also did, however, was get the worst stuff out of the way at the start: the ditzy-ness, the consumerism, etc.  So when things did start to happen, as prosaic as they were, it was a marked improvement.  

This reminds me of a similar strategy employed by Shortbus (2007), a little-seen American indie film that may be one of the best of the last decade.  Director John Cameron Mitchell wove together a stunning opening sequence consisting of three parallel-edited scenes, each more shocking than the last, featuring onscreen ejaculation, auto-fellatio, and more.  The purpose of that was to thoroughly plunge viewers into the deep end, so that they were able to appreciate the rest of the film in its emotional context, rather than the graphic sexual acts it depicted on screen.  This was a very clever move that enabled people with latent homophobia to move past their prejudices and appreciate the film on its significant artistic merits.  It was a deliberate move and while what I’ve described in Little Black Dress may have been accidental, it seemed to achieve the same effect.

Friend's success vs. mother's expectations
There isn’t very much going on as far as the story is concerned but I suppose it could be seem as a higher-strata, but much lower brow spin on Take Care of My Cat (2001), as it features four girlfriends who have just graduated from University and are not quite sure what happens next.  Naturally some progress quicker than others and splinters begin to form in the foursome.  The film follows the four protagonists, some more closely than others, as they try get by and get ahead, all the while wrestling with their parents and their own expectations for young adult life in Seoul.

The glossy look of the film suits it as it is very well shot with vibrant colours and strong composition throughout attractive locations.  It also makes it look like a commercial sometimes and this serves to highlight the frivolity of the narrative, this is also emphasized when one of the characters, the lazy, pretty, party girl who has never had to work in her life, winds up on billboards and tv ads as a jeans model.  The film revels in aesthetics and is always pleasing to look at, significant attention is paid to the costumes and they are also important parts of the narrative, as the title implies.  Costumes and appearance are very important to the characters, besides the friend who becomes a model and subsequently a K-Drama actress, another friend is also trying to land roles but she is so ashamed of her rejections that she tells her friends that she is no longer pursuing that career.

At the clothes store
I can’t say that Little Black Dress is for everyone, it is a light film with little substance.  Perhaps I was in a slightly less cynical and more forgiving mood than usual but to me the film was an easy watch and intermittently rewarding, as I am also in my mid-20s and a little uncertain of where my life’s path will lead.


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