Screened as part of NZIFF 2001

Lies 1999


Directed by Jang Sun-Woo

South Korea In Korean with English subtitles
115 minutes 35mm


Production Co

Shincine Communications


Shin Chui


Jang Sun-Woo. Based on the novel by Jang Jung Il


Park Gok Ji

Production Designer

Kim Myeong Kyeong


Lee Young Kil


Dal Palan


Lee Sang Hyun (J)
Kim Tae Yeon (Y)
Hye Jim Jeon (Woori)
Choi Hyun Joo (G, J's wife)
Han Kwon Taek (Y's brother)


Lies tells the tale of the virginal schoolgirl ‘Y’ and the 38-year-old sculptor ‘J,’ who embark on an obsessive affair that, beginning with a graphic three-orifice defloration in a cramped hotel room, escalates into full-blown amour fou, complete with consensual S&M slugfest. Some things were meant to be. By the second passionate tryst, J is asking Y if he can beat her; afterward, she happily shows her friend the welts. (Not long after, she starts setting the erotic agenda.) Variety estimates that 90 percent of Lies is devoted to sex scenes. There’s an abundance of action – kinky and otherwise – which, voyeuristically shot by a roving camera and characterized by a naturalistic struggling out of clothes, doesn’t entirely seem to be faked.

Does the camera not lie? Jang, who maintains that both performers confided in him that ‘they could enjoy the whippings and beatings’ and that this ‘probably lent [their scenes] a certain credibility,’ is the arch transgressor of South Korea’s increasingly daring filmmakers… Lies was made to shock, as well as to challenge local censorship – based, as it was, on a notorious Korean novel that was published in 1996 and immediately banned and pulped as pornographic. The author Jang Jung Il (no relation to Jang Sun-Woo) was sentenced to six months in prison…

Appropriate to its celebration of antisocial individualism, Lies is shot in a loose, semi-vérité style; it has a jagged construction and a fresh, jazzy look. Jang is fond of using a wide-angle lens in narrow spaces or shooting a scene from the perspective of an elevator surveillance camera. The music pulsates; the sex scenes are sometimes pixelated to enhance their mania. The movie is not without perverse humor. Nor is it entirely devoid of tenderness – even when the beatings, now administered by Y, get a bit more extreme…

At once distanced and heedless, Lies manages to be lighter and less pretentious than any description suggests. The movie’s playful aspect can’t be denied. There’s a priceless scene where J and Y are rummaging around a construction site, oblivious to the workaday world in their search for a suitable thwacker. Not for nothing has Jang described the couple’s total self-absorption as a failed utopia, the ‘dream of living, eating, and fucking without having to work’. — J. Hoberman, Village Voice, 15/11/00