Rough Play had its world premiere at Busan this week, and for a film with a commercial K-Pop heartthrob lead Lee Joon, you can certainly tell it was penned by Kim Ki-duk. The official synopsis pitches the film as a quasi-sequel to the Kim written and produced Rough Cut. This is misleading as the film actually has very little in relation to that previous film. Fortunately this does not detract from its bold story which plays out as a fourth wall shattering, vanity project within a vanity project, all wrapped up in American Psycho's garbs.
Aspiring unknown actor Oh Young (Lee) aims for stardom with a can-do attitude and care for the craft. He is recognized in his smaller roles for his professionalism and charisma. This causes issues with the lead actors in the film who seem selfish and egotistical by comparison. The fans quickly flock to this bright new face but it is not long before he too is corrupted by star power.
Amidst all the madness, Lee goes all the way, bringing his character to the brink and back again. His acting is incredible as he demonstrates his range from egotistical maniac to fractured soul to depressed lover. You both feel for, and despise him.
The film begins with an inter-cut theatre play from past and present. In the past he rehearses a love story intensely, inhabiting the role and physically harming his female co-star in a fit of possessed rage. In the present he recites the same lines only in public and to a store mannequin. In fact, Oh Young is somewhat insane. His fame and success fuel an inherent narcissism as he subverts his reality and focuses the pain of a long lost love.
During his career he uses and abuses many beautiful actresses. Amidst the stylish and erotic sex scenes, Oh Young falls into a downward spiral of egotism and self-destruction. Bizarrely, Kim Ki-duk references him and his co-starring role in his own real film Moebius. It is confusing, but the world of limbo the actor exists in mirrors the insular nature of our current film industry. This is taken to bizarre and jarring but exciting extremes when in one scene Oh Young aggressively has his way with his co-star - they both starred in Moebius in real life and during the love making we cut to scenes of them walking the red carpet of a festival. The film makes use of this bizarre style to great effect.
The film falters most when it focuses on some scatter-shot plot threads that go nowhere, including a surprise cameo from a well-known actor that is not utilized effectively enough. Luckily these do not detract from the awesome mania on the screen.
Rough Play bewilders and impresses with its cheeky darker than black statement and style, but also resonates emotionally when the root of Oh Young's issues are confronted. Not all of Kim Ki-duk's commercial affairs are a hit but Rough Play is an incredibly engaging snapshot of a cut-throat insane industry.