Thursday, September 6, 2007

Movies: Minyeo-neun goerowo (200 Pounds Beauty)

With its [sic] title, 200 Pounds Beauty was screened last weekend as part of BAM's New York Korean Film Festival. BAM's website takes the liberty of correcting the title and singularizing the work "pound," but that is like going to barbecue in Koreatown and having your meat brought to the table already cooked. I only frequent restaurants with hot coals in the middle of my table.

The 200 pound beauty is Hanna, who is far from beautiful during the time that she's 200 pounds, and far from 200 pounds during the time that she's beautiful. Nevertheless, the plot strives to show that it's what's inside that counts—maybe—kind of—sort of—not really. Hanna is obese, and ugly to boot; she has a hairy upper lip, bulging eyes, and, well, bulging everything; her knobby, shiny chin sits inside a tire of flesh that one might call a neck. She is also accident prone, and has terrible table manners. She does, though, have a very sexy voice. She uses this for her part-time job as a phone sex operator, and for her "real" job: a pop songstress. Because she doesn't have the looks for pop music, though, she sings from a dais below the stage, facing video monitors that connect her to her producer/agent, while Ammy, a Korean version of Christina Aguilera, slinks around the stage, lip-synching into her headset and dancing provocatively.

Hanna is in love with her producer, a Korean Prince Charming type complete with professionally-tousled hair. She thinks that the emotion might be mutual until she overhears him conversing with Ammy in the bathroom about how they are just using her. At first suicidal, she quickly snaps into a more productive state and blackmails one of her phone sex clients—a preeminent plastic surgeon—into giving her total-body reconstructive surgery, for free. He does, and she is unrecognizably beautiful: thin, lithe, and lovely, she remarks after a workout "I even sweat pretty!" and after an emotional moment "I even cry pretty!" And she does.

Afraid to reveal her true identity, she auditions for her old producer as a Korean American from California, named Jenny. Her beauty and talent sweep him off his feet, and not only does he push her to stardom, marketing her as "a natural beauty" (she does not admit to having had any plastic surgery), but courts her romantically as well. Meanwhile, Ammy's career has been ruined since she lost her voice, and she has been hanging around the retirement home where Hanna's old, dotty dad lives; he and Hanna had once been extremely close, but she has been afraid to visit him since her surgery, having see Ammy there with him. Ammy finds out Jenny's true identity, and threatens to make the information public the night of Jenny's debut concert. After a number of incidents, including an attempted suicide by her best friend and back-up singer, and being confronted with her father at her album release party, Jenny breaks down crying on stage, and admits to her true identity in front of an audience of thousands. Her producer turns a video onto the screen behind her of the old Hanna, obese and ugly, but singing her heart out, and Jenny cries onstage while the audience goes wild. Afterward, Jenny cuts a new album and becomes a bigger sensation than ever. She gets over her crush on her producer, and he's now in love with her.

The movie leaves us there, with the moral that. . . what? Honesty is important, but in all honesty, fat is ugly, and beauty is rewarded? I suppose that's true, if not particularly edifying. The film out-Hollywoods Hollywood in its series of fatsuit movies which, I must admit, I've not seen (sorry). And although I'm not familiar with the emotional workings of Norbit, Shallow Hal, and whatever else has happened for the genre recently, I doubt any American film could be so openly shallow and simultaneously honest and simultaneously ridiculous as this. Whether that is a good thing or not (about any of these films), I have no idea.

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