Feb 25, 2019
Here’s the first of four Netflix Original films this week, reviewed by yours truly. Today’s film was another surprise release by Netflix in late January, which I only found while browsing the new releases section. I actually thought it was the South Korean television drama also entitled “High Society”, but it only shares the title with this South Korean film drama. For a few other Netflix Originals from South Korea, check out “Forgotten” (Episode #062), “Steel Rain” (Episode #087), “Psychokinesis” (Episode #124), “Illang: The Wolf Brigade” (Episode #304), and Garrett Wright’s review for “Revenger” (Episode #386). And if you have any South Korean favorites, let us know over social media!
Here we go!
Today’s movie is “High Society” (2018), the Netflix Original South Korean drama directed by Hyuk Byun. The film follows the upper middle class couple of Jang Tae Joon (Park Hae Il), an economics professor, and Oh Soo Yeon (Ae Soo), an up and coming art director, who are each offered opportunities to rise in the ranks of high society, but soon learn the price to be paid for that privilege.
The biggest hurdle to enjoying this film is slogging your way through the first third of the film, which spends forty minutes laying the foundation for the characters, and accelerating their path towards the inner workings of the Korean wealthy elite. Jang Tae Joon is recruited by the Republican Party, a conservative political party, to run for congress after saving a man from burning himself to death at a political rally. Oh Soo Yeon is in competition to replace the existing art director at the Mirae Cultural Center, which is poised to reopen. They are exciting opportunities for both of them, which lead to higher expectations for themselves and their lives, and the inevitable succumbing to temptations along the way. Nothing to write home about, and in many ways, pure privilege porn, especially when two upper middle class folks yearn for more.
Once you get over that hurdle, however, the second act really takes off, as the conflict grows between the couple, each pulled in their own direction, making compromise after compromise, and inevitably being blackmailed by the power brokers behind their rise to power. It’s a satisfying turn of events, but also gets increasingly complex as we discover the seedier details of both the political world and the artworld. The politics are quite interesting, but the real insight comes with an auction scene in Paris that provides everything wrong with the artworld, and much more succinctly than, say, all of “Velvet Buzzsaw” (Episode #407). Both leads are forced to compromise their values, often under duress, and we see just how linked their two situations have become, which leads to a very cathartic, mostly enjoyable and on message third act.
The strength of the film lies in its excellent story, but the execution has some noticeable flaws. Besides the slow opening third, the film goes somewhat overboard on the sexual side of things, including a very bizzare and uncomfortable scene involving a phone conversation and some unconventional art making methods. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone easily offended by bizarre sexual fetishes, because the one scene might kill the film for you, and while it was a bold choice, it also felt like a wholly unnecessary and alienating one as well. Definitely not a film I would watch at work or in mixed company, that’s for sure.
“High Society” (2018) is part privilege porn, part social commentary about the wealthy class in South Korea. While the story itself is delightfully complex, it is often in conflict with pacing, with perhaps too much emphasis on the more lustful side of privilege. Fans of South Korean dramas, who are not easily offended by sexual fetishes, should definitely check out this film. Everyone else will need to decide if struggling through a slow opening act is worth the over two hour investment.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.3/10
“High Society” (2018) is rated TV-MAand is currently streaming on Netflix.