Film Review: Beautiful (Arumdabda)

   Beauty, if we are to believe the glossy magazines that populate our stores and the airbrushed images of celebrities on-line and on TV, is a blessing afforded to only the luckiest and most privileged in society.

   Whilst many pray for a face or figure which will literally turn heads, director Juh Jai-hong asks us to imagine that perhaps the stares, gazes and unrequited attention we would receive is actually much closer to a cruel and wicked curse than any type of blessing.

   Cha Soo-yoon stars in Beautiful, a twisted modern day fairy tale, as a perfectly formed woman doomed to enchant and become the fantasy of every male she meets. The victim of violent lust and intense, disagreeable yearning, Eun-young (Cha) decides the only way to escape the fate of eternal desire is to destroy her looks and become unattractive.

   Often remiscent, in tone, of Darren Aranofsky's The Black Swan in it's nightmarish haze, Juh's film is as bleak as can possibly be imagined. Over the course of the movie's running time, Eun-young is traumatised through undesired attention, physical and emotional threats and, in an unrelentingly graphic sequence, the recipient of the worst kind of violence imaginable. Her only crime is being born beautiful.

   Juh's film confronts us all and makes us question modern society - he showcases the suffering of women, through the eyes of a metonymic Eun-young, who are mercilessly assaulted with idealised images of beauty every day and who are punished for achieving these standards and punished for falling short of them too. Its a film full of misanthropic and misogynistic violence, much of which (through eating disorders) Eun-young delivers to herself, but a movie which, ultimately, contains a strong feminist message.

   Beautiful is a shocking, gripping, harrowing, perfectly constructed, ugly fairytale perfectly reflecting a contemporary society where cosmetic surgery (particularly in Korea) is on the riseOne of the greatest, and most pertinent, films of the twenty first century to date.

    As a post-script, I decided to read fellow reviewers thoughts on this film.

   Astonishingly, in a movie about misogyny and objectification, the following sentence appeared in a review by no less an authority than Variety: "The biggest irony of the movie is that Eun-yeong is not actually especially beautiful by contempo South Korean standards, merely pretty."

   Derek Elley's shockingly misjudged words show just how pertinent a feature Beautiful truly is.
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