Alternative English title: Whatcha Wearin’?
Country: South Korea
Director: Byun Sung-hyun
Screenplay: Byun Sung-yun, Kim Min-soo
Cinematography: Choe Sang-ho
Cast: Ji Sung, Kim Ah-joong, Kang Kyeong-jun, Shin So-yul, Kim Bo-yeon, Kim Sung-oh
Runtime: 114 min
Distribution: CJ Entertainment
Note: The film came with an 19+ rating in South Korea as it contains coarse language as well as some nudity and sex.
When Naui P.S. Pateuneo released in Korean cinemas in 2012, it hit the one-million admissions mark within ten days – faster than any other adult rom-com that had come before. It sold itself with a veiled but racy title (P.S. stands for Phone Sex), enticing viewers with a titillating trailer (watch above) and plenty promise of naughty.
The story all starts not-quite-so-innocently one night when Yoon-jung (Kim A-joong) decides to treat her long-time boyfriend Seung-joon (Kang Kyeong-Jun) to some phone sex but dials one wrong number on her new handset. Unwittingly she begins moaning into the ears of Hyung-seung (Ji Sung), who doesn’t quite know what is happening but, in a half-drunk, self-pitying state from having just seen his ex-girlfriend So-Yeon’s (Shin So-yul) absolutely perfect new man, quickly becomes a willing participant. When the truth is revealed, Yoon-jung instantly hangs up in embarrassment. Only a day later the two are on the phone with each other again: this time it is Hyung-seung that is ringing Yoon-jung, still in misery, as he needs to let off some steam in his anger towards the female species. The pair is soon entangled in a war of words (Yoon-jung declares him a “lunatic”, “psycho” and “pervert” for having phone sex with a stranger, Hyung-seung retorts that she was the one that called him), until the latter, a softie at heart, breaks down in tears over his ex.
From then on the two start calling each other at all hours of day and night, complaining about their (ex-)partners without holding back any details. Their conversations are blunt and uninhibited, including anything from stinky feet to intimate details about their (ex-)partners’ bodies and sex life. With Yoon-jung working in the lingerie business, there is also plenty of talk about panties (hence the alternative English title) – the ones that men like best, the ones that she is currently wearing and so forth. The sexual openness extends to other characters, as Yoon-jung’s mom (Kim Bo-yeon) describes her seduction techniques just a bit too much for her daughter’s own comfort and one of Hyung-seung’s permanently single and sex-starved buddies (Kim Sung-oh) admits to a wet dream that most people would be too mortified to share even with their life partner. All that frankness stands in refreshing contrast to much of Korean entertainment, particularly the overly chaste world of K-drama where virginal heroines faint at the sight of a man’s bare chest and adults apparently don’t have sex.
However, the film’s sexy candidness only stretches so far and there are plenty of times when Naui P.S. Pateuneo doesn’t deliver the raunchiness that it promises – 애인 (Aein/The Intimate, 2003) or 쌍화점 (Ssanghwajeom/A Frozen Flower, 2008) this is not – and also falls back into old clichés with its narrative arch. To begin with, Yoon-jung’s phone sex – which is meant to be with her boyfriend – is actually all pretend: when the camera pulls back, we see that the heroine is indeed in her bathroom, but merely sitting on a stool (dressed, rather than naked in the bathtub) and splashing her hand in a bowl of water. If a little surprising, the scene may be indicative of the true state of the couple’s relationship, i.e. while Yoon-jung may still be trying to please her boyfriend, she isn’t actually sexually attracted and aroused by him anymore. Similarly, there is plenty of alluring talk with Hyung-seung and some flashes of bras and panties, but his – and the film’s – most graphic sex scene comes with his ex as he fantasises about how they used to make love. Both actors are shown in full state of undress, with Shin So-yul baring breasts and buttocks, and are kissing passionately:
Kim A-Joong’s sex scenes as Yoon-jung, meanwhile, are of the suggestive kind, which can be sensual and plenty erotic as well but here undermines the film’s self-declared smuttiness and, perhaps even more significantly, upsets the balance between the female protagonist and the second lead. What and who (the director? the actress and her management?) motivated this odd choice we can only wonder.
Naui P.S. Pateuneo also has hiccups in terms of narrative and characterisation. Generally, the development of Yoon-jung and Hyung-seung’s relationship is done well as they slowly become more interested in each other through their conversations. It transpires that they are on similar wavelengths and their progression from name- and faceless P.S. partners to individuals that meet and fall for each other in real life is realistically done and believable, depicting both their sexual attraction but also the undeniable awkwardness that comes with the whole situation. What does not work so well, however, is the fact that Yoon-jung’s relationship with her original boyfriend is dragged out through the entire film. Confusingly, Yoon-jung confronts Seung-joon and his work-colleague mistress (uttering seemingly final words “This will be the last beer we drink together”), then goes to have sex with Hyung-seung for the first time, but is back with her boyfriend the next day. As the flirting continues with Hyung-seung as well, we enter murky moral territories – although, as much as I am not a fan of cheating (or call it half-cheating, if you will, in this case) story lines, the biggest issue here is in terms of the narrative.
What is it that the director is trying to do? Where is the story going exactly? [warning: SPOILERS follow] Is it really necessary for Seo-yeon (if only briefly) to reconsider and why doesn’t Yoon-jung break up with Seung-joon when it is clear that their relationship is already over? Both second leads – Seung-joon in particular – are unfortunately too flatly drawn to provide any satisfying explanations, while Yoon-jung is sadly reduced to a damsel in distress that must be rescued from her own wedding. It’s a very clichéd and cringeworthy choice of climax, although somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Hyung-seung’s last minute love confession – public and in the most inappropriate of moments – is, now again, refreshingly lewd and, amusingly, also becomes a floodgate for more shocking revelations from other individuals. [end SPOILERS]
Naui P.S. Pateuneo is certainly better than many romantic comedies as it does offer some fresh moments and occasional visual treats (such as when the hero reaches through the screen during a phone call to put his hand into Yoon-jung’s panties), but still resorts to some clichéd characterisation and plot twists that it could have easily done without.
Overall verdict: Naui P.S. Pateuneo is a reasonably entertaining rom-com that goes raunchier than many mainstream films and is sometimes also refreshingly candid but doesn’t quite dare to shake off all character and plot clichés.