Did anyone see this coming? After acheiving significant international success with his family oriented animated feature My Beautiful Girl Mari - and he is currently at work on another animated feature, Cobby the Fox - Korea's Lee Sung-Gang opted to make his sophomore feature a live action picture. And not just any live action picture, an experimental, supernaturally charged mystery loaded with explicit sexuality. Texture of Skin is a drastic change of pace for the director, one so dramtic that it could conceivably place his entire career at risk were he to fail. But Texture of Skin is far away from being a failure. It is a beautiful, complex, subtly nuanced film; one unlikely to rack up major box office but also one that clearly announces Lee as a significant talent in all facets of his work and one that should allow him to move in literally any direction, any sphere, he cares to for the rest of his career.
The film follows Min-Woo, a photographer for an investigative journal, through several weeks of his life after a chance encounter with Jae-hee, an old friend from college days. Jae-hee, now a married businesswoman, makes an unusual proposition to Min-woo. She wants to have an affair, but limits it strictly to only nine encounters. Min-woo agrees to this only to find old feelings awakening within him as the affair progresses. He is also increasingly plagued by dreams and visions of a young woman, apparently the woman who lived in his new apartment just prior to his arrival.
To say any more about the plot would take us well into spoiler territory and this is a film that should be seen and appreciated with as little advance knowledge as possible. With its reliance on surreal dream-logic, elliptical story telling and flashes of graphic sex and violence Texture of Skin is, in many ways, reminiscent of David Lynch's work though Lee's shooting and story telling style are quite different. Lee unfolds his story slowly, gradually, giving only glimpses and guesses, forcing the audience to draw the threads together into a whole. It is a film beautifully constructed and sure to reward repeat viewings.
As is the case with most animators turned live action directors Lee has a sharp eye for detail. His compositions are simply stunning, often shot through a warm amber filter. And, as strange as this may sound in reference to a film loaded with graphic sex, what Lee doesn't show you is very often as important as what he does - a fact he telegraphs by shooting the initial encounter and proposition between Jae-hee and Min-woo from the knees down.
Texture of Skin is purely an arthouse film, one made for adult audiences willing to devote some time and energy to it. Those looking for a fast pace and quick answers will find it immensely frustrating but for the rest of us this announces Lee's arrival as a significant auteur. Very highly recommended.