Portrait of a Beauty

Portrait of a Beauty

The film opens during Korea's Joseun dynasty, with people admiring a young boy's artwork, but when he is asked to take brush in hand, he freezes, wetting himself. His enraged father comes to look for him after he has fled the room, only to find the boy has hung himself. That's when the true story emerges: Despite his father's ambitions, the boy has no talent for art; his sister Yun-jeong has been filling his portfolio and allowing him to pass it off as his own. The father is further enraged, blaming the girl for her brother's death but also insisting she continue the deception, disguising herself as a boy and going off to the art academy under Yun-bok's name. She does, and quickly becomes a favorite of the court artist, Kim Hong-do (Kim Yeong-ho); however, when the adult "Yun-bok" (Kim Min-sun) meets mirror maker Kang-mu (Kim Nam-gil), he soon discovers her secret and they fall in love, which not only adds a forbidden erotic streak to her art, but threatens to expose her in a time when women were not allowed to become artists. [...] Like the paintings we see Yun-jeong draw, the film is quite open with its eroticism, but almost never exploitative. We see plenty of bare flesh, but it's often in the context of Yun-jeong learning what it is like to love, if not live, as a woman. It's a powerful image of discovery, and Kim Min-sun portrays it wonderfully. Almost as wonderful is how genuine the relationship between her and Kim Nam-gil's Kang-mu is; it doesn't come across as a first crush, or a love that exists mainly because it is forbidden, but as two people who enjoy every aspect of each other, body and soul. [...] Director Jeon Yoon-seo has created a lovely film to look at, featuring exquisitely detailed period sets and costumes. He does a nice job of showcasing Hyewon's art within the movie without making scenes seem posed or artificial, and draws good performances from his cast. I would like it a little more if he had shown us more of Yun-jeong's and Hong-do's respective techniques, making this a film just as much about art as passion.

Country: Korean

Status: Completed

Released: 2008

Genre: Drama, Romance, Erotica

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