Three successful best friends explore love, life and sex in the city in Venus Talk (관능의 법칙). Glamorous TV producer Sin-hye (Uhm Jung-hwa (엄정화), dumped by her cheating boyfriend, begins a relationship with young 20-something intern Hyeon-seung (Lee Jae-yoon (이재윤). Housewife Mi-yeon (Moon So-ri (문소리) has an incredibly high libido and loves to play sexual games with her husband Jae-ho (Lee Sung-min (이성민), yet unbeknownst to her he is secretly taking viagra to keep up with her demands. Bakery store owner and single mother Hae-yong (Jo Min-soo (조민수) is dating local carpenter Seong-jae (Lee Kyeong-yeong (이경영) who is reluctant to commit to a serious relationship. The three women talk, laugh and support each other through the minefield of dating as middle-aged women, strengthening their bonds of friendship with their frank discussions of love and sex.
Venus Talk sells itself as the Korean answer to Sex and the City, and for the opening 20~30 minutes that is very much true. The forthright manner in which sex and relationships are explored is an extremely refreshing and welcome change from the filmic roles typically ascribed to Korean women, with the comedy derived from their open discussions genuinely engaging as well as entertaining. Writer Lee Soo-ah’s (이수아) script is great in capturing the spirit of three independent and empowered women who do not function solely as love interests, but who have aspirations, responsibilities and desires, the kind of women who tend to rarely enjoy screentime in mainstream Korean cinema. Single TV producer Sin-hye is a career savvy, hard working women of particular repute, and her dilemmas regarding her relationship with a 20-something junior are consistently funny as well as exposing the ageism that exists within Korean culture. Meanwhile single mother Hae-yeong contends with dating, motherhood and running a business, and highly sexed Mi-yeon strives to introduce exciting sex games to keep the passion alive in her marriage. Often such characters are reduced to stereotypes and/or ‘contained’ by the narrative, yet in the opening 20~30 minutes of Venus Talk the women express their desires, sexual or otherwise, freely to each and without fear of judgement, with the depictions of their sexual antics both funny and endearing.
Unfortunately after such an invigorating opening Venus Talk, seemingly unable to continue the momentum of portraying the lives of empowered women, descends into standard K-drama tropes. After some quite funny moments of sexual liberation as Mi-yeon prepares erotic toys, Sin-hye has an affair with a young colleague, and Hae-young acts like a teenager with her lover, the narrative jettisons it all to focus on bland, tried-and-tested arcs that seek to almost ‘punish’ the women for their transgressions. Each protagonist comes close to loosing everything they hold dear typically due to their own actions. All three are blamed, harassed and scolded simply for being women who fall outside of socially acceptable roles in Korean society, which comes as a saddening surprise given the empowered opening. Mi-yeon, for example, is treated terribly by her husband and is later attacked by a criminal; yet when she reports the assault she is chastised for being a woman ‘of a certain age’ and is told, even by her friends, that she should forgive her husband. The turnaround from feminist to embracing traditional stereotypes is quite extraordinary.
Director Kwon Chil-in (권칠인) competently helms the film yet he occasionally seems to forget his target audience, notably during a quite graphic sex scene in which he focuses primarily on Uhm Jeong-hwa’s body. He has however made excellent choices with his cast, employing actresses who are not only extremely talented but who also have sexy screen personas – Uhm Jeong-hwa (Marriage Is a Crazy Thing), Moon So-ri (A Good Lawyer’s Wife), Jo Min-soo (Pieta) – with each actress performing their respective roles well. The narrative tends to focus primarily on Uhm’s character, and she conveys her frustrations as a businesswoman being victimized by gossip particularly well. Moon So-ri displays impressive comedic skills throughout the film, particularly in regards to scenes with her long-suffering husband. It is Jo Min-soo who shines the brightest in Venus Talk, displaying prowess as a strong single mother yet one who is also vulnerable and longing for love. The scenes in which she is reunited with her boyfriend following surgery are stunningly performed by Jo, and while it’s a great shame that the narrative does’t explore the tangent further, the power expressed through such a short amount of screentime is palpable.
Venus Talk is Korea’s attempt at crafting a Sex and the City style, and for the opening 20~30 minutes director Kwon Chil-in and screenwriter Lee Soo-ah do well in portraying three empowered and sexually liberated friends as they discuss life, love, and sex. Yet the film later takes a turn into typical K-drama fare, and worst still, seemingly attempts to ‘punish’ the the central protagonists for being modern feminists. Yet with a great cast and funny moments, Venus Talk is an enjoyable effort.