Method: A Twisted, Unparalleled Korean Romance

What a ballsy film.

Now we all know that to portray a homosexual relationship on the big screen is no controversial feat – any longer, at least. Take your pick of a dozen beautifully-crafted films and television series over the course of the last decade, which have sought to illuminate LGBTQ+ relationships, boost awareness, and snub the taboo that once accompanied queer relationships in entertainment and elsewhere. Call Me by Your Name, Skam, and Moonlight are just a few of these mediums through which queer themes have gained greater acceptance in the media.

Yet Method is not only a queer film, and at that, not only is it a romance. In fact, I would quite vehemently argue that it is not truly a “romance,” in the traditional sense, at all. It is a tale of obsession – a careening glimpse into mutual lust, yet one-sided fanaticism, unrequited and disturbing visions of love, and at its precipice, a suspense-driven thriller marred by horror and desperation.

Method is not the happy-go-lucky K-drama that you have been seeking. It isn’t the toe-curling, grin-inducing, butterfly-fluttering romance that warms the pit of your stomach and sets your heart afire with cuteness overload. This is not that.

This is dark. This is bloody. This doesn’t shy from stigma and envy and death and suicide. If love is a two-sided coin, then Method lives on the underside of such a coin, dealing in the darkness, the wretched grime and shame of a distorted perception of love.

"Unchained," the film's theatrical piece, offers dark insight into the obsession of both Singer and Yeong-woo.
“Unchained,” the film’s theatrical piece, offers dark insight into the obsession of both Singer and Yeong-woo.

I absolutely loved this film. And if you are not faint of heart, if you are willing to forego the pleasure of a pure, untainted love story, if you are seeking a film that not only pummels you to the ground with suspense hanging above your head like a guillotine, but also one that shreds your heart into thinly-stripped filets and leaves you bawling, deep into the night, with unanswered questions and a hole within your chest that may never again be filled, then I deeply encourage you to seek out this solitary masterpiece.

For the rest of this post, however, we will delve deeper into the intricacies of the film, those that detracted from its effectiveness and those that added to it. No film escapes a critical eye. And so, if you have yet to view this little breathtaking piece of cinematic artwork, then I urge you to avert your eyes now. We have much to discuss.

Now, I don’t want you thinking that I characterized this film as utterly ballsy with the simple rationale that it is queer, and dark. Those attributes don’t warrant such a description in my book. What did catch my eye, upon first glance, was the unmistakable age difference between our two protagonists. The film does not explicitly offer up Jae-ha and Yeong-woo’s ages, yet for all intensive purposes, we can form some inferences. The actor who plays Jae-ha, Park Sung-woong, is 45 years old, and the actor who portrays Yeong-woo, Oh Seunghun, is 27 years old. As it is, this is an impressive difference of 18 years. Yet this is exacerbated by the film, in which Yeong-woo is often alluded to as a “teen idol,” suggesting that in the film, he is a minor. Considering him at the brink of adulthood, the age of 18, gives us 27 years as the quite frankly astonishing age difference between the two lovers (assuming that Jae-ha’s age is relatively similar to that of Park Sung-woong).

Now, I also don’t want you to think that I find fault with this. Perhaps the morality of such an affair is decidedly ambiguous because Yeong-woo may be a minor, but if we for a moment set that aside, I find nothing the matter with such an age difference. Personally, I do not believe in such constraints on our freedom to lust after and love others. However, we can’t deny that society is not as forgiving as I am. You would never come across such a blatant age difference in an American film. I’ll wait while you attempt to think up some film where there was such an age difference between the two lovers. I’m waiting. And I’ll continue to wait. Because you won’t find one.

I have no doubt that this says something about our own society. It not only highlights the degree of intolerance plaguing our communal conscious – the still-festering stigmas and taboos that we can’t seem to rid ourselves of – but it also shames us. We claim to be the most advanced nation on the planet. Or at least our commander-in-chief claims so. We purport to be the most tolerant. Yet we fall so very short. Halfway across the world, a nation roughly the size of half of Minnesota, with practices we like to call overly traditionalist, is shattering the boundaries we cannot. It is showing us up. And we have much to learn from it.

I have a bone to pick with this film because of the tropes it utilized. The plot wasn’t overtly original, and I find this flaw to be the most disconcerting in a film that otherwise had such merits. Again, we are met with the forbidden romance trope – the prohibited affair between a married man and a young star. We encounter the fanfiction-worthy, quite unrealistic meet-cute between two protagonists who fall in love in a play, as well as in real life. As such an unlikely occurrence, I find that the impractical nature of such a relationship detracts from the film, as a whole. We must endure the same tropes we have witnessed a hundred times over. The only thing I can say of Method is that it succeeds in subverting some of these elements, and finds creative avenues for adding twists to the tropes we have learned to recognize.

At every turn, Method blurs the line between the stage and reality.
At every turn, Method blurs the line between the stage and reality.

I also found myself disillusioned with the dramatism of the film. Oh Seunghun’s acting, while absolutely profound, was perhaps too superb for its medium. The utter intensity with which he performed every scene, with which he portrayed every emotion, was almost too dramatic to have been believable. Seunghun’s passion and verve belonged not on the big screen, but on the stage. His presence filled the screen to the bursting, and left Sung-woong trailing in his wake, a shroud of dust and irrelevance, relegated to Seunghun’s shadow. It was as if, with each word, each touch, each emotive pierce of his eyes, that Seunghun was not mere inches from a camera, but before a grandiose avenue, shouting his passion to an audience of thousands.

I find it increasingly odd that a film concerning a play would feature an actor whose style of acting mirrored that of a play. I can see only three plausible reasons for such an occurrence.

The first is that Seunghun was truly just over-the-top in his acting. That his inexperience caused him to overact what could have been portrayed with a much greater degree of subtlety. Perhaps he simply did not have enough experience in the field to yet know what would be construed as passionate, and what would be construed as unrealistic, to the point of cheesiness.

My second rationale for such behavior is that the director of the film called for such a style, to deepen the interplay between the drama within the film, and “real life” outside of the theatrical drama. The film itself loves to play around with the blurry line between what is real and what is acted, so it would not surprise me if such a method had been used to even more deeply blur these concepts.

My third rationale, and possibly the most interesting (and thereby unlikely) of the three, brings us to my rather unpopular theory regarding the film. We all sincerely want to believe that Yeong-woo and Jae-ha were in love, at least at some point during the course of the film. And judging by the mere reactions of the two males when they returned to their real lives, it is no doubt plausible that they had enjoyed some sort of genuine connection, as close to love as love can be fostered in such a short time. Yet I would like to believe that Yeong-woo never truly did fall in love with Jae-ha. My convoluted little theory is that it was all an act. From the moment he began working on the play, to the moment their performance ended, he lived in the body and mind of Singer. He lived not as Yeong-woo, but as his character. And so, his “love” for Jae-ha would not have been love at all, but merely a perpetuation of his act. If this were the case, then it would not be unrealistic at all to assume Yeong-woo’s over-the-top acting throughout the film – from his confession of love to Jae-ha (“I love you. You said you loved me. I wanted the world to know about us!”), to his breakdown and subsequent tears at the beginning of the film (“I’m sorry for acting like a child.”), to his heartbroken tears during the press conference – was simply a continuation of his stage presence. This would justify the intensity of his actions. And I remain convinced of this possibility, especially after Yeong-woo confesses,

“I played the perfect Singer,”

during the last scene. Such a line alludes not only to the performance, but the litany of real-life parallels that were unearthed during the play, including the parallel between Hee-won and Claire, and Singer’s violence against Claire, which Jae-ha believes to have been mirrored in real life until Hee-won appears in the audience, alive and well.   

Jae-ha and Yeong-woo possess an all-consuming chemistry that no similar film has yet to achieve with as much intensity.
Jae-ha and Yeong-woo possess an all-consuming chemistry that no similar film has yet to achieve with as much intensity.

I must express how absolutely perfect I thought the chemistry between Jae-ha and Yeong-woo. The untampered fury mirrored in the eyes of both men as Jae-ha for the first time grabs his wrist, then proceeds to throw him across the room, is chill-inducing. The utter reverence in Yeong-woo’s gaze as Jae-ha wipes the tear streaks from his cheeks, is profound. The way that Jae-ha wraps the chains about Yeong-woo’s wrists, tugging harshly at his skin, and the subservience in Yeong-woo’s stillness, is almost obscene. The chemistry between the two, headed off by Yeong-woo’s intimate, passionate stares and smug smiles and debauched, lust-addled gazes, topped off the film and gave it undeniably raw undertones.

For the chemistry alone, Method deserves far more accolades than it has received. To pull off such intense chemistry with the age gap alone, is a feat in and of itself. Considering that this film takes on the characteristics of a thriller, the fact that such an emphatic passion remains present between both Jae-ha and Yeong-woo, despite the blooming hatred and toxic obsession, is an incredible victory for both the actors and the writers. It isn’t often that such polar genres can be meshed with such brilliance, and still retain their defining richness.

Method played with our hearts – at one instant making even the idea of love reek of misery and despair and all things hellish, and at the other seducing us into believing that no matter the end, such a raw, intense pleasure is always worth the pain chained to it.

Leave a Reply