A little diversion here, looking at an American film, that has its roots firmly in Korean cinema, due both to the subject matter and the nationality of the Director Sohn Soo-pum and the star Song Hye-kyo. I will start however, with a little diatribe at the stupid title – “Fetish” is quite the misnomer, and really sells the content of the movie short. Yes, there is a sexual element to proceedings, but it to me suggests something a little more extreme, whereas this is actually looking at something rather interesting and different – the integration of immigrants into new countries, taking a non-comedic route, which I find refreshing. It is also full of faces from American TV that although in no way stars, will have you vaguely recognising them all.
After a rather odd little sequence talking about Korean Shamen, we are introduced to Sookhy (Song) who has recently married a Korean American Peter (Rob Yang) and come to America to live with her new husband and his Mother (June Kyoto Lu). They live next door to a young professional couple, John and Julie (Arno Frisch and Athena Currey), who are eager to get Sookhy involved in their friendship. Sookhy struggles at first to integrate, but a series of fatal incidents bring her ever more closely into her neighbour’s lives, with eventual tragic and supernatural consequences.
Now, there are two broad themes to the film, albeit linked. One is done fairly successfully, the other less so. So I can end on a high note, I will start with the less successful aspect. The film is bookended by a couple of scenes suggesting the possibility of a supernatural component to proceedings. The film looks amazing, and there is a soundtrack that is suitably haunting. Yet it fails to really produce an air of dread that such films need. It is never quite brave enough to really explore the subject matter, giving the audience mere hints. If this was a film where you could leave such suspicions open to some doubt, I think it would work – but the closing sequence is so definitive on this, that it ultimately fails. Moreover, the film tries to weave a bit of misdirection in the closing 20 minutes, and it is done in such a ham-fisted and overlong way, that it totally fails (this is hard to talk about without spoilers – but lets just say the identity of a certain character is obscured for a long 10 minute sequence, the reveal is meant to be a shock, but as it was one of only two possibilities, it really did not deserve to be quite so drawn out.
On the other hand the themes of alienation and assimilation are very well done. I loved the first part of the film where is it clear that the New Jersey Korean community have hardly assimilated at all – keeping to their own customs and gatherings (reminding me of the large number of obviously Korean Catholic churches I saw in LA last year). Sookhy is different, after an initial difficulty, she embraces the chance to be part of American culture, struggling against the well meaning attitudes of her neighbours. Of course, as this theme becomes enmeshed with the supernatural element this becomes a more obvious metaphor.
Despite all the gloss, and a fantastic central performance from Song, the film struggles because it can’t quite decide what it wants to be. It is not witty enough to truly examine the aspects of society it wants to explore, and not able to maintain real tension in order to be the thriller it is dressed up as. As mentioned earlier, the final twist is lacking in subtlety and finesse, and whilst it is hauntingly mesmeric at times, it is far from nail-bitingly addictive.
However, I will be positive, there is some good stuff on display here, and it gets the Mildly Recommended tag.