GREGOR CAMERON reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Korea, take two.

A DIRTY thought makes the world spin around, but a decent moral sets a stable tone. There’s something very alluring about circling the darker side of human sexuality and Kim Dae-Woo’s film Forbidden Quest gets it just right. He leads us into the seedy world, involves us in the dialogue about the rights and wrongs of it, without ever descending into the deliberately prurient.

Set in the Chosun Period of Korean history, it easily evokes the 18th century period through its sets and costumes – paper lanterns and not a Daewoo in sight. However, in common with other films of facsimile history, at times it reminds us that it is speaking to an audience of the 21st century. Most apparent is the inclusion of the concept of ‘message boards’ suggested by the comments left inside the ‘indecent’ books and the ‘moving’ pictures used as a final gag at the end. And here is the crux of why this film was such a great piece of cinema – it was incredibly funny at the same time that it engages with some pretty important social commentary. Clearly it is to be counted within the same set of genre movies as Stage Beauty, Moliere, and most famously Shakespeare in Love. It courts history without ever really pretending to be history

Kim Yoon-Seo (Han Suk-kyu) finds himself both fascinated by the indecent books he writes and in love with a woman he oughtn’t be even thinking about – he follows “orders from there’ (his groin) rather than ‘orders from here’ (his brain). This leads him into a dual battle with the state. Thus with his distribution of these illicit books and his growing obsession over the ‘Queen’, the king’s favourite concubine – Jung-bin (Kim Min-Jung), we travel a perilous road that only seems to lead into darkness. And it does get dark. But Kim Dae-Woo doesn’t ever descend too far and while no-one ends happily ever after there are plenty of indications that a ‘happy’ resolution may be in the future for all the characters, somehow. Kim’s direction of this piece, as a first time director, betrays his experience within the industry as he produces a film that deserves far a wider audience than the Film Society – thank goodness they brought this gem in.

Its running time could feel epic but Kim’s balanced interpretation of his own script means that as an audience we are lead logically down a road that has us laughing, concerned, shocked and entertained in generous measure, but you are carried along in such a way that, in common with the best of epic films, means you hardly feel the time passing and the annoying jiggle of the cell phone in your pocket goes completely ignored. In short the tricks can be ignored because the story carries us so nicely.

The final word can be left to the king, who in one of the most poignant moments says “the ones who love the most, are always the losers.” And sometimes losing is the only way of winning – such is the truth perhaps in the debate about pornography.