Korean director Lee Hae Yeong follows up his 2006 sex swap comedy “Like a Virgin” with more bawdy antics in “Foxy Festival”, an ensemble piece charting the huge variety of things that go on behind the curtains of a seemingly quiet neighbourhood. As with his debut, Lee again aims not for sleaze, but makes a real effort to humanise his characters rather than playing them for titillation or cheap laughs, and the film is a witty and surprisingly thoughtful affair. Bravely taking on the roles of the liberated locals are an all star cast comprising Shin Ha Kyun (“Thirst”), Uhm Ji Won (“The Good, The Bad, The Weird”), Shim Hye Jin (“Over the Border”), Ryoo Seung Bum (“The Unjust”), Sung Dong Il (“Take Off”), Baek Jin Hee (“Bandhobi”), and Oh Dal Su (“Old Boy”).
The film kicks off following an over sexed and stereotypically masculine police officer called Jang Bae (Shin Ha Kyun), whose life is turned upside down when he opens a parcel for his girlfriend (Uhm Ji Won) and finds a vibrator inside. Meanwhile, many of the other people living in the neighbourhood are discovering their own inner pervert, including middle aged hanbok store owner Sun Shim (Shim Hye Jin), who enters into a kinky S&M relationship with an only too willing victim in hardware store owner Ki Bong (Sung Dong Il). At the same time, her high school daughter (Baek Jin Hee) falls for a fishcake seller with a bizarre doll fetish (Ryoo Seung Bum), and a teacher (Oh Dal Su) develops a taste for wearing his wife’s lingerie.
Despite such an outrageous premise, “Foxy Festival” is by no means the “Sex is Zero” style sleaze comedy that most viewers will probably expect, with the only nudity or actual adult action coming from Shin Ha Kyun, who quite frequently appears in the nude, with full frontal shots obscured by comical porn style pixilation. In this respect, the closest point for comparison is perhaps the hilarious “Dasepo Naughty Girls”, and it certainly covers a similarly wide range of odd sexual activities, including, but not limited to domination fantasies, crossing dressing, school girls selling underwear, and other practices too many to mention here without spoiling the fun or getting too graphic. Though the film also features a great deal of masturbation and eye opening situations, it is never sleazy or degrading to its female characters, and in this regard stands as a rare and genuine attempt to catalogue and indeed celebrate sexual variety.
The film really is one for open minded viewers only, as it treats its characters with open affection, and not as freaks to be laughed at. It does show a certain moral flexibility which some might find distasteful, though director Lee uses it to provide a pretty fascinating and brave take on acceptance, gender politics and the male sexual ego. It does cover a number of serious issues alongside its gags, and never pulls punches when confronting some tough issues and the difficulties of love, desire and certain lifestyle choices. It’s a real credit to the script that this sits very comfortably with the offbeat sense of humour and weird fantasy sequences, and the film is both amusing and thoughtful throughout, with a good number of incredibly funny moments.
The film does have a few minor flaws, chiefly in that it is a plotless affair, which leaps around between its characters without much care for narrative cohesion, and as a result the pacing is a little off here and there. This anecdotal approach seems to be quite deliberate on Lee’s part, as the script is quite untroubled by its lack of any links between the characters during the first hour or so of the running time. The final act does bring things together, though largely as a result of a series of coincidences, and this does prevent things from coming to a truly satisfying conclusion.
However, to an extent this is beside the point, and “Foxy Festival” shines as a surprisingly non-exploitative peek at unconventional sexuality that benefits hugely from a sharp and witty script. Though likely to be disappointing for audiences in search of simple sleaze, it should certainly be enjoyed by mature viewers or those interested to see a game cast being put through a highly imaginative variety of compromising situations and positions.
Lee Hae-yeong (director) / Lee Hae-yeong (screenplay)
CAST: Sin Ha-gyoon