There is an ironic edgy fun in South Korean film “Lost to Shame”, a dark, biting story about one contradictory juxtaposition of art and hypocrisy. As its actor hero struggles with his pretension as well as his artistic job, the movie tries to penetrate that false nature of performance, and it gives us a number of intense dramatic moments as coldly observing its hero’s gradual downward spiral inside and outside his performance.
When we meet Song-joon (Nam Yeon-woo) for the first time, he is in a trouble due to his nearly penniless status. As soon as he arrives at his shabby apartment building by a cab, he goes right up to his apartment for finding any money for paying the cab driver, but there is not enough money for that, and he has no choice but to seek financial help from his younger brother Song-hyeok (Ann Sung-min), who instantly comes to take care of his brother’s problem and then has a little drinking time with him later.
We hear that there is a very good opportunity which young unemployed actors like Song-Joon cannot possibly miss. A famous play named “Dark Life” is about to be put on the stage under the direction of a renowned director, and Song-joon is willing to play its transgender hero although he does not know anything about transgender people or other sexual minority people. After he watches a TV documentary on one young transgender lady working in Itaewon-dong of Seoul, he decides to come there for getting to know more about transgender people, and that is how he coincidentally come across the very lady he watched from the TV documentary.
Although their first encounter is awkward to say the least, I-na (Hong Jeong-ho) willingly takes Song-joon to her world for giving him more knowledge and experience. After Song-joon has one jolly drunken night at a transgender bar, I-na takes him to a community meeting of various sexual minority people, and this surely opens his eyes to the people to whom he has never paid attention before. When one of his close friends later comes out of his closet during their drinking meeting, Song-joon is understandably perplexed at first, but he is mostly all right with that, though he is a little angry because his friend did not tell him that for years despite their long friendship.
Thanks to what he observes and learns from I-na and other sexual minority people, Song-joon is fully prepared for the upcoming audition, and he also gets considerable help from Song-hyeok. While diligently preparing himself for a contest which may lead to a bright future, Song-hyeok often teaches his brother some choreographic movements, and Song-joon is going to use them for more authenticity to impress the director and others in the audition.
While not showing much of the audition, the movie promptly moves onto its next plot point. Not long after he goes through the audition, Song-joon gets a call, and he is excited as notified that he gets the part. After that, everything goes well for him; the director and his cast and crew members have full confidence on him right from the very first day, and he does not disappoint them at all as fully hurling himself into his role. The opening night turns out to be a total success, and everyone around him is happy for that.
However, there comes an unexpected moment when he realizes that he is not actually free from his prejudice at all. I will not go into details here for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that the story becomes more interesting than before as depicting the resulting contradiction in Song-joon’s performance. The more he becomes conflicted, the better his performance looks on the stage, and there are several darkly humorous moments as he is accordingly praised more and more by the director and others in the production.
The movie is the first feature film by director/writer Nam Yeon-woo, who has steadily worked as a performer since his breakthrough turn in “Fatal” (2012). While never making any excuse on his increasingly unlikable character, Nam did a good job of conveying his character’s growing conflict to us, and he also shows here that he is a filmmaker with considerable potential. Although the story is heavy-handed at times, the movie seldom steps back from its forthright attitude, and it certainly strikes us hard as pushing its hero into more hypocrisy and shame during its finale.
The supporting performers in the film are effective in their respective parts. Ahn Sung-min is believable in his dance scenes in the film, and I was not so surprised to learn later that he actually studied dance before he later became interested in acting. While Han Myung-soo is fine as Song-joon’s gay friend, Hong Jeong-ho is well-cast as a transgender character as memorable as Koo Gyo-hwan’s character in “Jane” (2016), and he is simply terrific during one crucial scene where his character pours her angry emotions into her song performance. As the director and his chirpy assistant, Choi Yong-jin and Yang Jo-a mainly function as the source of wry deadpan humor in the film, and we get nice moments of small laughs thanks to them.
Although it is sometime hindered by its small budget as well as its occasionally clumsy storytelling, “Lost to Shame” modestly succeeds in what it intends to do, and I enjoyed its sharp satire which does not pull punches at all. This is surely a solid debut work to admire, and I really hope there will be other interesting things coming from Nam.