Movie aficionado sophomore Chardonnay Needler reviews films biweekly in “Cynicism at the Cinema.”
I swore to myself I never would; I made a solemn pact.
“I will never watch a Korean drama or movie.”
I had seen the manic obsession surrounding them, and I did not want to be dragged into that.
Boy, am I glad I have no willpower.
“The Beauty Inside” questions everything about today’s image-obsessed ideals of identity.
Furniture designer Woo-Jin has woken up in a different body every morning since the day of high-school graduation.
Sometimes he’s old and needs glasses. Some mornings he isn’t even a man or Korean.
(Yet somehow he always has good fashion sense, so I guess his predicament is a fair trade).
Every day he becomes a completely new person, but he still has the same personality.
The only one who knows about his situation is his friend Sang-Beck, who frequents Woo-Jin’s apartment and is the comedic offset to a generally emotionally heavy tale.
That is, until Woo-Jin meets Yi-Soo, a worker at the same furniture corporation as he, who incidentally sells Woo-Jin’s custom-made furniture.
Pursuing long-term relationships is difficult if you aren’t the same person every day.
It’s quite a bittersweet plot, as this man builds up a lifetime of love in his heart while having to regain his soulmate’s trust every day, figuratively starting from ground zero each morning.
But, as proven by Woo-Jin’s father – who suffered from the same problem – he is capable of achieving a lasting romantic relationship.
After watching the movie, I discovered that it was based on a 2013 39-minute-long American social film (not shown in theaters, but gradually covered through a social media account) of the same title that was released in 2013.
So what do I do but go find it on YouTube and watch the significantly shorter version that was (with the exception of one scene in Mandarin) in English (yay, no subtitles!)?
I expected the same plot as the Korean version, but was pleasantly surprised to see that the same basic story could be told another way.
Without giving away the endings of both (which were drastically different), I’ll describe Alex (the protagonist of the American version)’s plight.
Alex has faced this strange problem of waking up with a different body for as long as he can remember.
Nonetheless, Alex has a steady job refurbishing antique furniture.
One day, while checking up on the shop, he meets Lea, a girl who sells his furniture.
After talking to her day after day, he begins to fall in love with her.
This is, of course, the basic plot of the other film.
But unlike Woo-Jin, Alex has no friends.
This has a twofold result: 1) Alex yearns even more to be with Lea, and 2) Alex is much lonelier than Woo-Jin.
Alex also has no backstory, which is why the film is so short, as much of the Korean version was dedicated to an equally tragic backstory about Woo-Jin’s father.
The cinematography in both is seamless and refined; every morning scene of Woo-Jin or Alex is simplistic but brilliant. You see the main character go through the large closets, look into the mirror, measure a new shoe size; you hear his voice and hear his cynical but sometimes optimistic thoughts about his life.
Yet if I had a choice, I would recommend the Korean version. Given an extra hour, the plot and characters develop more. The Korean version is more bittersweet and moving.
The American version also allowed my mind to wander and find plot holes.
If this has been happening every day for forever, what in the world did Alex’s parents think? Did they try to do anything about it? How did he get a job or go to college? The change happens after sleeping, so would it still occur if he just takes a nap?
The Korean version answered all of these questions by explaining that there was a time when Woo-Jin was a normal person. On the day of his high-school graduation, when he was just a little over 18, he woke up, looked in the mirror and saw someone else.
That’s why he can drive. That’s how he has a job and even a few friends.
Also, Woo-Jin does take a nap and actually becomes a different person afterward!
Lastly, Woo-Jin’s story’s end was poignant but hopeful. Alex’s was a little too feel-good.
—By Chardonnay Needler