Diss-orienting: Hello, Hottie!
Crosslinked: This is a new series dedicated to spastic fits of rage and rapture specifically for those equipped with Netflix and extra disposable income to attend the local indieplex. For the rest of the summer (and the year, hopefully), I’ll be recommending a slew of Asian (American) films that played in previous years at SFIAAFF and upcoming projects worthy of a quick look—anticipation guaranteed, satisfaction is another story.
200 Pounds Beauty (Yong-hwa Kim, Korea, 2006)
No sweat, no tears, just lipo! What I found incredibly daring for a romantic comedy (at least by Korean standards) featuring fatsuits and “inner” beauties is the cut-to-the-chase transformation of the morbidly obese phone sex operator to gorgeous pop princess, albeit with some shrewdly edited montages. Offering her illustrious voice for a Britney-Spears puppet singer, Hanna is the Debbie Reynolds of Singin’ in the Rain minus the already perfect She’s All That body. Realizing her life as a meaningless sham, she blackmails a pathetic plastic surgeon to mold a modern-day Pygmalion out of her shapeless blubber.
Hanna becomes Jenny, the face that launched a thousand traffic accidents. Forget diet and exercise, the film seizes the opportunity to critique a society on the verge of being a clone farm, everyone cannibalizing on the same proportions and personalities. There’s one striking line (paraphasing here) that exemplifies the contradictory attitude of a hush-hush taboo that everyone knows is practiced among neighbors, but a disgrace for wives and girlfriends to admit. Stemming back to male anxieties around perfection and its abject reality, the quote comes from the music producer, the love of Hanna’s life, the reason for her extreme makeover. His personality shifts as sharply and frequently as the plot requires to hurt or heal Hanna, prodding her closer to a blow-out epiphany about discovering one’s identity in a funhouse of mirrors, distorted and truthful, one and the same.
The entire second act is obsessively tinged with talks about naturalism versus artificiality, her talent is real, her body ain’t. What makes a singer? The film wants it both ways and gets it. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but like all films dealing with secret and lies, there is a final reveal, a drawn-out confession, filled with enough glycerin tears and an emotionally gullible public to forgive what Hanna has done to herself and to her past, since a fatlift is never too different from a facelift, and that itself is never too far away from the suspicious eyes of family and friends. Eschewing moral scrutiny, the climax subscribes to what I’d called “redemption by the flesh,” that is, the spectacular display of the final girl (as marketable commodity) ameliorates any residual trauma and emotional turmoil of going under the knife. Miley Cyrus, put back that “Hannah” Montana wig. At least, 200 Pound Beauty never settles for a maudlin reconciliation between beauty and beauty (Jenny and her manager), leaving only a tiny peephole for future happiness attained through stardom as opposed to romance.
Jenny/Hanna singing ‘Maria’ (Korean version)
The Original Blondie Hit circa 1999
STATS: Available now at local Asian video stores or courtesy of Youtube (w/Eng subs).