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Foxy Festival
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by Jay Seaver

"Foxy and feisty."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Look behind enough closed doors in any community and it probably won't take long until you find something a bit odd, but probably harmless if you look at it without judgment. Well, maybe not totally without judgment - "weird" does qualify as judging something, and without that, "Foxy Festival" isn't very funny and life isn't very exciting.

Weird can be seen as threatening, though, which is why Seoul's police department has announced a crackdown on indecency in a middle-class neighborhood. Kwok Jang-bae (Shin Ha-kyun) is not terribly interested in enforcing it, at least not until he sees the fancy vibrator that his live-in girlfriend Ji-su (Uhm Ji-won) has purchased. Why, he thinks, having access to his rod should be enough (and she really should be more grateful)! On the other end of the supply chain is Joo Ja-hae (Baek Jin-hee), a schoolgirl who sells her sweaty panties to a sex shop on wheels but can't get Choi-kang Sangdu (Ryoo Seung-bum), a street vendor, to return her interest. Meanwhile, Ja-hae's mother Sun-shim (Shim Hye-jin), a prim traditional dressmaker, discovers that she and Gi-bong (Song Dong-il), the owner of the hardware store across the street, have complementary turn-ons, while her high-school principal Kim Kwang-rok (Oh Dal-su) finds things going in odd directions when he tries to get more intimate with his wife.

It might be a bit of fun here to give the reader a list of kinks to match with the characters as a game (whoever matches the most before seeing the movie wins!), but that runs the risk of spoiling the surprises that writer/director Lee Hae-young regularly springs on the audience. It actually wouldn't be too big a deal, as Lee isn't so much going for jaw-dropping shock as wry smiles as he reveals these predictions - but why take any of the fun out of it? Still, it is worth noting that there is something of a pattern at work, with the more superficially outré activities corresponding to happier relationships, and vice versa. Certainly, Jang-bae's conventional approach seems to be heading toward acrimony with Ji-su, while Sun-shim's and Gi-bong's scenes together are undeniably sweet.

That's a testament to the impressive ensemble, too - Shim Hye-jin is quite marvelous as Sun-shim, especially toward the start. Then, it's easy (and likely intentional) to simply mistake her for being old-fashioned when she's actually keeping something locked away, with her later scenes combining liberation with decided eccentricity. Song Dong-il plays off her perfectly, supportive and quietly excited at the same time. Shin Ha-kyun, meanwhile, does a sneaky-good job of transforming Jang-bae from a merely unlikable bastard to a comically desperate one, which is actually a huge relief because his character could easily be very grating. There are a number of funny performances up and down the cast, with Bbaek Jin-hee standing out by making Ja-hae both precocious and naive.

Of all the characters, Ja-hae is the one closest to the center of the film, at least in terms of having direct connections to other characters,but Lee keeps things loose, letting the individual stories play out on their own rather than pushing everything together into one blob. Fortunately, there's not a weak link in the bunch, with all four main threads managing to be heartfelt while having their own very strong senses of humor. The jokes are ribald, naturally, but also frequently sly and winking, including a couple of cameos fans of Korean film may appreciate.

Not all of it is subtle, though; Lee gets some memorably crude and elaborate sight gags in there as well, especially as Jang-bae's panicked imagination starts running away with him. It's a genuinely fun movie to watch, well-paced and good looking, which shouldn't be taken for granted: Lots of sex comedies go for the quick giggle without putting a lot of effort into the rest of the craft.

"Foxy Festival" pretty much gets things right without compromising its oddity. It's weird, but well-done.

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originally posted: 08/07/11 02:25:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Hae-young Lee

Written by
  Hae-young Lee

  Ha-kyun Shin
  Ji-won Uhm
  Hye-Jin Shim
  Dong-Il Song
  Seung-Bum Ryoo
  Jin-Hee Baek
  Dal-su Oh

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