[Our thanks to Shelagh Rowan-Legg for the following review.]
Food and sex go together quite naturally. They both engage all of the senses, and in particular the mouth plays an integral part in the sensuality and intimacy of each. The mouth eats, kisses, and speaks, and there is truth and lies in each of these acts. In director Hong Ji-Young's film The Naked Kitchen, the sensuality and haptic natures of food and sex combine and confuse in the life of a young woman and the two men who love her.
Mo-Rae seems to have a near-perfect life. She owns a small shop that sells only parasols; she is married to her high school sweetheart, a successful financial advisor; and their home is aesthetically beautiful, with a tree growing in the middle of the kitchen that focuses the life and love of their marriage. But then Bro quits his job to follow his dream of being a master chef, and he enlists the help of Du-Re, a young phenom of fusion cuisine. But Du-Re is the man with whom Mo-Rae once had an illicit and brief affair. As the three live together in the house, Mo-Rae finds herself torn between the two men.
The opening half of the film is beautifully crafted with small moments of quiet exchange. Mo-Rae is Amelie-like, living in a strange world of colour and light, her seemingly constant sunny disposition shining through wide eyes that Hong takes full advantage of on screen. When the three are first in the house together, there are hints of a possible triad of love, as they come together over meals. While Du-Re insists upon perfection in the kitchen, with constant practice and the need for even the smallest morsel of food to entice each taste bud, sex comes more easily and with more room for imperfections. As Bro's cooking improves, his confidence with his wife decreases. All the while, the sliding doors of the house reflect the sliding doors in Mo-Rae's heart. In cooking, each food, each flavour has a purpose. Hong does not seem to waste any cut of close-up, making each one a part of the meal.
Unfortunately, the narrative falls apart in the second half. The hints of a three-way love affair, which were enticing and beautifully crafted, disappear into a more stereotypical love triangle. It felt almost as though the script were being written each day, with little or no coherence to the precious day, and so one scene would begin another thread of the narrative that in the next was completely abandoned. The ending is more than confusing, and instead of being a contemporary Korean version of Jules et Jim, it fell into a gap of a clichéd no-man's land.
Review by Shelagh Rowan-Legg
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