Foxy Festival (Peseutibal)

Korea (2010) Dir. Lee Hae-yeong 

This ribald portmanteau comedy from Korea features the residents of a small community all of whom have some kind of sexual hang-up or inhibition they either discover or keep secret from everyone.

Macho cop Kwak Jang-bae (Shin Ha-kyun) believes himself to be a real stud but his English teacher girlfriend, Ji-su (Uhm Ji-won), is fed up with his attitude and constant need for sex. Meanwhile married high school teacher Kim Gwang-rok (Oh Dal-su) has a penchant for wearing women’s underwear when his wife (Jo Gyeong-suk) isn’t around.

One of his students Ju Ja-hye (Baek Jin-hee), who sells her sweaty underwear on the internet to help pay off her father’s debts, has a crush on sausage stall owner Choi-kang Sang-du (Ryoo Seung-bum), to whom she wants to lose her virginity, although he is oblivious to her advances. Finally Ja-hye’s mother, Ju Seon-shim (Shim Hye-jin), a prim hanbok (traditional Korean dress) maker, is working hard to pay off her husband’s debts. She encounters hardware store owner Gi-bong (Sung Dong-il) and recognises he has an S&M fetish which she quietly shares and they get together.

That sounds like a pretty funky neighbourhood to live in but this is the other side of the community we rarely get to see that only exists behind closed doors. Because of its mainstream credentials and ensemble cast of popular Korean actors, this isn’t as explicit or excessively as prurient as it might have been had this been an indie production or a US/European film.

In just his second film as director, former screenwriter Hae-yeong Lee is aware of this yet manages to push the boundaries as far as he can without going too far (aside from one instance of a pixelated phallus), which in fact makes this a more enjoyable outing as it is about the people behind the “perversions” than the acts themselves.

Of the various situations only Jang-bae’s stands alone as one less about desire and is more about loss. Thinking himself a real dynamic lover, he is unaware that Ji-su has been faking it, ignoring her irritation at his inconsiderate behaviour around the house. When he takes in a parcel for Ji-su one day from a noted sex toy seller (incidentally the same one Ja-hye sells her panties through, which is in fact run from the back of van by ex-criminal Deok-gu (Mun Se-yun)), he opens it to discover a vibrator.

This dents Jang-bae’s ego and soon begins to develop penis envy, which drives a wedge between the two as his inferiority complex grows, with hints appearing at every mundane opportunity in his daily life.

Ja-hye’s scenario is a curious one as she is a school girl who is desperate to try and woo Choi-kang who is much older. He humours Ja-hye but allowing her to hang around the stall and help out but won’t take the bite and rightly so due to the age difference. In one amusing scene, an attempt to use an aphrodisiac mixed in with an energy drink, which is supposed to work in 3 minutes, backfires when it fails to work only to kick in later as Choi-kang is driving home with rather messy results. But the story takes a darker turn when Ja-hye breaks into Choi-kang’s home and finds out exactly why he’s be rebuking Ja-hye’s advances.

To the unlikely S&M couple of Gi-bong and Seon-shim and quite how they recognised kindred spirits in one other isn’t quite obvious but they make for an entertaining couple. The key moral of their tale is that they are both normal and reputable people who just happen to have an odd fetish.

Seon-shim undergoes an image change by having her old fashioned long hair cut short and ditches her bookish glasses before putting her tailoring skills to god use making a dog gimp costume for Gi-bong and a dominatrix outfit for herself – and actress Shim Hye-jin makes for a damn sexy dominatrix!!!

This is the thread played most for laughs, naturally, but doesn’t set out to demonise the pair as weird as the fun they have is mutual. Providing a good laugh is the book Gi-bong gives to Seon-shim and encourages her to write down any fantasies she may have; she returns the book saying she has no real understanding of the S&M world but the book is filled with intricate diagrams, blueprints and even a pop-up model!

Again nothing salacious or deeply perverted is shown here – but it is very funny – but this is how they are seen by the public when the secrets come out one dark night when the need to get some fresh air and the tiredness of hiding who they are overcomes them.

Like most Korean comedies this one takes a more serious turning the late second act but doesn’t get bogged down by this, instead it serves, for once, as a useful catalyst to analyse our attitudes towards sexual peccadilloes.   

And this again is really what Hae-yeong Lee is trying to convey to us – that it may seem unacceptable or “perverted” in the eyes of convention but if it is consensual and is doing nobody else any harm then go for it. Even with Jang-bae’s complex, who needed it to cause a rethink in his attitude, the overall message is to be happy with you have got and make the most of it – don’t let anyone else throw it away for you.

Foxy Festival is an occasionally crude but good hearted and astute look at a taboo and often maligned subject that manages to make fun out of it rather than of it. The cast willingly allow themselves to be exposed in the name of entertainment and while not a ground breaker per se it is refreshing to be reminded about the humanity behind sexuality rather than using it for lewd titillation purposes.


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