Tae-yeong (played by Kim Soo-hyun) is a man in a suit who owns a casino and can always be found chewing gum. The first act of “Real” has him talking to psychiatrist Jin-gi (played by Lee Sung-min) about some sort of…thing that happened. This framing device ends up being dropped completely as Tae-yeong ends up embroiled in some sort of…thing involving his exact duplicate (also played by Kim Soo-hyun) who is differentiated from the original by a crystal mask, then padding, and finally glasses. Then they do lots of other…things that are highly sexy, violent, and colorful, but otherwise largely incomprehensible.
I kid you not- the final setpiece of “Real” is a straight-up superhero action scene, in a movie that up until that point was largely grounded in the “Real” (hoho) world. Further confusing me, this is actually one of the better superhero action scenes I can recall having seen in a very, very long time, with crisp fluid movement, perfect camera angles, and water effects that are to die for. I just couldn’t figure out what any of this had to do with the film’s alleged story.
Hm, perhaps it was a metaphor. Maybe the casino was merely a kind of purgatory all along, where the dying, masked Tae-yeong must spend his days following around his cooler physically intact duplicate desperately trying to recreate the awesome manliness of his prior existence, only to realize that he can never live up to his former self. And, much like the superpowers, these limitations are merely part and parcel of Tae-yeong’s own flawed perceptions.
Consider how both Tae-yeongs has sex. Observe how the first Tae-yeong simply passively receives oral, when it seems like he wants something more. Then the masked Tae-yeong creepily tries to directly imitate original. Yet even as the masked Tae-yeong is focused on the image of the original, this stimulation causes him to be far more engaged and excited in the sexual process, even as neither Tae-yeong is focused on the woman (both of which are played by Sulli).
Huh. Maybe this is why people make tapes of themselves having sex. I’ve never seen the appeal myself. Although that does beg the question, if a person is sexually stimulated by an image of themselves, does that mean they’re gay? Or merely masturbatory? These are the very important questions “Real” poses, although much like the characters themselves, I find myself pondering- are these questions themselves “Real”, or merely projections created by my imagination on the assumption of what a casino gangster thriller is supposed to look like?
Really makes you think. Or maybe I’m just confusing thinking with squinting in a very perplexed manner at what appears to be a David Lynch inspired drug-fueled dreamscape. Well, I’m sure there’s an audience for “Real” out there somewhere. People do watch David Lynch movies after all. But if you’re reading this review to try and decide whether “Real” is really the legendary trainwreck it is claimed to be, all I can tell you is yes, yes it is. I am guided by the beauty of this trainwreck.
Review by William Schwartz
“Real” is directed by Lee Sa-rang and features Kim Soo-hyun, Lee Sung-min, Sung Dong-il, Sulli and Jo Woo-jin.
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