200 Pounds Beauty (2006)

   In one of the most beguiling horror films of recent years, Juh Jai-hong's Beautiful asks us to look at the dehumanising effects the constant quest for aesthetic perfection has on our souls. Harrowing, sickening and pertinent, the movie seemed to be a timely riposte to the growing convention of body modification and mutilation sweeping across South Korean society.

   At the other end of the spectrum is Kim Yong-hwa's 200 Pounds Beauty - a knockabout, glittering slapstick romantic comedy. Whilst Kim and Juh's film may share themes relating to the pressures put on women to achieve perfection, the tones of the two features could not be further apart. On a not unrelated note, the two movies had very different runs at the Korean box office too - 200 Pounds Beauty remains one of the most successful films of all time in its home country, Beautiful was barely viewed.

   Based on a Japanese manga, 200 Pounds Beauty (or, to give it its Korean title Minyeoneun Goerowo - Hard To Be a Beauty) is the story of an overweight young lady who seeks pop super-stardom above all else. In an industry obsessed with looks (often in favour of talent), Han-na (Kim Ah-Joong) decides that the only way she can further her career is to undergo an extreme plastic surgery makeover. Stuck as a ghost singer, and making ends meet by working as a phone sex employee, what does she have to lose? Multiple nips, tucks and shaves later and Han-na returns to her life as Jenny - more slender, attractive and liked due to her new looks. A whole new world of socio-economic success lies before her.

   As a light-hearted comedy, and a mainstream one at that, Kim's movie does little in the way of addressing the problems with undergoing radical surgical procedures so as to develop a sense of self-worth (or to win the heart of a potential amour as the film fleetingly suggests) - indeed, it delivers a rather eccentric take on wish fulfillment not seen in films since the baffling and misjudged romanticisation of prostitution in Pretty Woman.

   A second (more sober) half of the film does show us that men often judge women on their looks (which, I'm sure we new before viewing the movie) but the message Kim delivers us in uncertain. All we know, by the end of the feature, is that Jenny is ultimately happier, more successful and more accepted than she was before her makeover. Personality, we are told, is worth naught for a woman unless she has the looks of a model. Whilst Kim Ah-Joong attacks her role with admiral relish (and delivers multiple titters with the portrayal of her character's naivety), 200 Pounds Beauty seems remarkably ill-considered - a much better film, one which tackles gender issues with a far greater nuance, would be a film it undoubtedly inspired: How To Use Guys With Secret Tips.

   Glitzy, glam, full of gumption and occasionally mirthful, 200 Pounds Beauty is the type of movie its easy to laugh along with for its running time. Its only once the credits have rolled, and one evaluates what has been seen, that it becomes depressing. When one considers that there may be some accidental flashes of real-life attitudes in the entertainment industries, only then does it become as harrowing, sickening and pertinent as Beautiful after all.

     ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT THE TOTALITY: 200 Pounds Beauty Korean Film Review
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A look at the films of North and South Korea. Written by Kieron J Casey.

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