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Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakno

(Nam Ki-woong, Korea, 2000)


 

The Four Tricks of the Hooker

This is a small, trash-art masterpiece, for four reasons.

Firstly, for the sheer, streetwise brilliance of its concept: to cross the rape-revenge cycle (from Lipstick [1976] to Baise-moi [2000]) with RoboCop (1987). Only the little known Eve of Destruction (1991) came close to this master stroke: a schoolgirl hooker (Lee So-woon, always in uniform, naturally) meets her death at the hands of an evil teacher (Kim Dae-tong), is chopped up by a gang and put back together by a lurking scientist, and then returns as an angel of vengeance. It's not subtle – its crowning moment is a giant mechanical gun-phallus shoved in the mouth of the cowering teacher – but it has no desire to be.

Secondly, for its guttersnipe inventiveness. Made with virtually no money or resources, everything (from costumes and techno-assemblages to wide angle lenses and steadicam-type contraptions) was patched together in a merry bricolage by director Nam Ki-woong and his small team. Hilariously, in a barely sixty minute film, the credits run through very slowly backwards at the start – and then forwards at the end. In between, a musical collage blares everything from Gypsy Kings to Massive Attack – always at war with the image.

Thirdly, for the truly underground tradition it revives. Teenage Hooker does not really resemble contemporary camp-schlock by John Waters or Gregg Araki. It is closer to the avant-garde funk of Red Grooms, the manic pastiche of George Kuchar, or the punk shock tactics of Jon Moritsugu. Part of this aesthetic is its rough, hit-and-miss texture: some effects are as dexterously staged as in a Sam Raimi Evil Dead movie (the wonderful whip-movements away the girl's gun, along her arm, into her face), others fall flat as a pancake. But the static, draggy moments are as important as the wham-bang ones – and both come together in a splendidly demented dance scene between hooker and teacher.

And fourthly, for its redemption of digital video. Nam's stylisation is brutal but absolutely consistent: faces are grotesque masks, light is souped up to blinding levels, the contours of every space are distorted, primary colours reach maximum, lurid intensity. The end result is strangely lyrical and poetic: amid all the grungy noise, posturing, violent sex and sexual violence, one remembers the bleached close-up of the girl, immortalising her one night of true love.

© Adrian Martin October 2001


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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