So-called serious sex films, like Romance or Eyes Wide Shut, almost always end up as grimly static art follies (they’re not much of a turn-on, either). Now, however, someone has finally done it — made a sexually explicit feature that is also a genuine and harrowing work of erotic drama. Jang Sun Woo’s Lies, which provoked a scandal in its native Korea, teeters right on the edge of pornography, and that’s exactly what’s powerful about it. For all its extremity (it’s naked, in every sense, but not hardcore), the movie captures, with an elegant voyeuristic relentlessness, the experience of what it’s like to be consumed — devoured — by sex.
For most of Lies, we watch as two characters, a gentle-looking 38-year-old sculptor (Lee Sang Hyun) and his hell-bent high school-student lover (Kim Tae Yeon), meet in sparsely decorated hotel rooms for a series of escalating sexual encounters. The two push each other’s limits with a kind of possessed, die-my-darling frenzy, awash in the addiction of sex, as if the flow of hormones were God’s heroin. Like all addicts, they have to escalate the dosage to stay high, and so they descend into sadomasochism, forging a shocking intimacy out of power and pain. Lies, to put it mildly, isn’t for every taste, but the actors attain a ferocious on-screen connection that makes this the most heightened graphic-erotic tragedy since In the Realm of the Senses. A