The film follows four relationships each containing some form of sexual perversion or taboo. A town festival is upon them that is aimed at promoting “safety and happiness” which, according to the town’s police chef, is achieved by discouraging and halting irregular behaviour. However a “coming out” of sexual misfits whose urges, secrets, and perversions overrun the festivals idealised theme with comical consequences.
Police officer Jang-bae (Sin Ha-gyoon) is Korean machismo incarnate. His bloated ego centres on his well-endowed manhood and the confidence he expels as a result is very over-the-top. His phallic-centric and fragile reality gets challenged by both his girlfriend’s (Eom Ji-won as Ji-soo) sexual dissatisfaction and his partner’s more impressive member. Jang-bae’s journey to humility is paired with some comical flashes into his clearly insecure subconscious. He anxiously imagines his liberal girlfriend riding a massive member and a neighing horse flashes on screen when he glimpses his partner’s impressive package in the restroom.
Shim Hye-jin plays Soon-sim, a Hanbok shop owner/closet freak who’s S&M fantasies come alive when she decides to embrace her dark sexual desires. Donning a Hanbok (Korean traditional dress) for the majority of the film, she embodies the conservative and traditional values of Korean women. Her curiosity is spark when so discovers a massive whip in the back of a handyman’s (Gi-bong played by Seong Dong-il) store across from her own. She proceeds to set up engagements with him and the two are soon playing out there fantasies in his shady backroom, and they are indeed bizarre and hilarious.
The other two stories involve Soom-sim’s high school daughter Ja-hye (Baek Jin-hee) and her teacher Kwang-rok (Oh Dal-soo). Ja-hye is infatuated with the fish cake vendor Sang-doo (Ryoo Seung-beom), who dismisses her overt sexual advances in favour of his extremely life-like mannequin “girlfriend”, whom he keeps well-dressed and hidden in his house. Kwang-rok, in an attempt to revitalise his married life, finds himself wearing ladies lingerie and thoroughly enjoying it.
The characters’ paths frequently cross and there is always a chuckle to be had as parties are either awkwardly exposed as sexual deviants or wearing social masks to conceal their perversions. One scene involves Soom-sim and Kwang-rok in a parent-teacher meeting. As they sit and discuss Ja-hye’s strange and erratic behaviour at school we see Soom-sim’s dominatrix boots and Kwang-rok’s protruding lingerie under the table.
“Festival” is piece of Queer Cinema in the sense that it is a story of “coming out”, self-expression as well as personal acceptance. Sexual identity and openingly diverting from social norms is the name of the game here. However one might find that the satisfaction you feel from the film's resolution is unbalanced and even artificially presented, but there is still a lot to be said for its progressive themes and overall delivery. There are instances in the film that needed to be tackled or pushed further and others where more subtlety was needed (especially with the film's final imagery). Lee Hae-yeong might have struggled with this balancing act but it is a highly entertaining film nonetheless.
-Christopher J. Wheeler
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