Beauty Inside (2015) Review 뷰티 인사이드 : Too smart and Too silly...

Greetings from Korea. This is Prof. AKIA with a new Korean movie “Beauty Inside” (2015) which looks like it will end up being the sleeper hit of the summer. It was a summer Korean box office mostly filled with basically Korean propaganda movies pandering to their specific audiences. “Beauty Inside” (2015), on the other hand, is mostly about nothing important and doesn’t really pretend to be anything more. So that is a plus for the movie.

I overheard a relatively elderly woman saying to her companion “This doesn’t seem like a Korean movie!’ while coming out of the theater after viewing “Beauty Inside” (2015). I wanted but did not say to the lady that “you are somewhat correct but only if you don’t watch a lot of movies…” Because of the gimmick employed by the movie, the movie may feel foreign but it is really not.

“Il Mare” (2000) 

“The Lake House”

The closest analogue to “Beauty Inside” (2015) is “Il Mare” (2000) starring Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae. That move can be seen as a first wave movie of the Korean cinema renaissance which started in the mid-90s with its heavy influence by Japanese movies. You may remember the Hollywood remake “The Lake House” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. “Il Mare” (2000) was basically but not legally adapting 1998’s Hallmark Hall TV movie “The Love Letter” starring Campbell Scott and Jennifer Jason Leigh. That movie was, in turn, an adaptation of a short story written by Jack Finney in 1959.

What I am trying to say is that this type of story is nothing really new even in Korea. It your standard romance story with a fantastic hook / gimmick that makes the romance possible and more romantic while acting as a device to separate the couple when the story needs more suspense. With “Il Mare” (2000), the gimmick was a magical time travelling post box. With “The Love Letter” (1998), it was a magical time travelling desk. There is nothing really different about the fantastic gimmick in “Beauty Inside” (2015) other than the fact that the protagonist is the magical gimmick. Also that person doesn’t travel time. That movie was “About Time” (2013). While there is nothing really too unique about the gimmick, “Beauty Inside” (2015) is ambitious about the execution of the gimmick to the degree of self-indulgence. But…

First the plot!

While I’ll try to avoid specific spoilers, “Beauty Inside” (2015) is not the kind of movie that one should be proud of getting blind sighted by plot turns. It is just not that kind of movie!

The Plot
The core story underneath the gimmick is the “Beauty and the beast” story archetype which makes the rather misleading title of the movie suddenly more relevant. The movie is not really about the internal beauty of people. In other words, not a 90s make over movie!

For those younger folks, just imagine the Edward and belle story from “Twilight.” You have a cursed man who falls for “normal” girl in somewhat stalker like fashion. Rather running for her life, the girl falls in love with the monster and overcomes his curse with their love.

Some people may be getting hives at this moment.

“The Phantom Of The Opera” story can be seen as somewhat of a twist on the “Beauty and the beast” story by actually acknowledging that it is rather creepy.

Does “Grease” (1978) fall into this story archetype?

Why I am talking about “Grease” (1978) suddenly out of the blue? Not much of a reason, other than “Beauty Inside” (2015) weirdly reminds me of the classic movie musical. And no “Beauty Inside” (2015) is not a musical.

Utterly no singing!

While I just rambled on without actually referring to the plot of “Beauty Inside” (2015), you basically do not need more than what I provided in terms of the specific plot points. If you know the “Beauty and the beast” story archetype and seen even a few romance movies, even the comedies, you get what the movie is. Just copy and paste and then fill in the blanks.

Now let’s get to the thing that actually matters.

The Gimmick/ Conceit

So what is the curse that torments the beast/guy in “Beauty Inside” (2015)?

Imagine combining the random uncontrollable nature of time travel in “Time traveler’s wife” with the body transformation aspect of the regeneration from “Doctor Who.” Now cut out the time travel parts. That is the gimmick of “Beauty Inside” (2015).

The guy morphs into different bodies every time he goes to sleep. While the promotion for the movie states “He changes faces every day,” this is rather inaccurate. The movie is specific about the fact that, first he changes bodies every time he sleeps and second, that he has no control over what or more accurately who he turns into. It is like whenever he sleeps, his unconscious mind randomly picks any person on the planet and copies that person’s body for the guy’s mind to inhabit. This means that gender, nationality, and age are free for the pickings. He is a girl one day, He is a boy of age 8 anther day.

Seem interesting?

Well, the people behind the movie definitely think so. They love the gimmick and are very self-congratulatory about their cleverness to the level of self-indulgence. This kind of indulgence tends to blind people.

I cannot totally refute that there is something at least clever albeit not unique to the gimmick. However, what I give more credit on is the effort put into executing the gimmick. From the casting alone, you know making this movie was a significant feat. They cast dozens of actors, including some heavy hitters in Korean entertainment such as the likes of Lee Beom-Soo, to play the cursed guy for less than 5 minutes of screen time each except for Park Seo-joon. He who was given about 15 minutes. They also recruited professional actors and extras from different countries.  Just imagining the logistics! It hurts my brain.

In addition, for a standard romance movie, a lot of effort was put into imagining the details regarding the cursed guy’s daily life. How does he adjust to the different sized and gendered bodies every day? How does he make money without having any identification since legally he has no identity? “Beauty Inside” (2015) goes heavy with the gimmick by delving “deep-ish” into it. This makes the movie actually unique for the genre.

However, does this self-indulgence pay off? Even “Il Mare” (2000) tried to get through its gimmick as fast as it could and then focus on character stuff. Many people still had issues with the gimmick. Does “Beauty Inside” (2015) fare better? The answer is no! Definitely, the answer is a no. For “Beauty Inside” (2015), the gimmick is its deadliest weakness while being its greatest strength at the same time.

There are several issues with the movie’s insistence with going all in with the gimmick and even with the gimmick itself. I’ll start with the former.

Too smart and Too silly...
While the gimmick is interesting and the movie goes into its details, this is really only relative to the genre this movie is in.  “Beauty Inside” (2015) is a romance drama. It is not even a romantic comedy. There are some jokes here and there. Most of them are either crude sex jokes that seemed to be from the 80s or “I turned into this not-average looking Korean/non-Korean person today! Waka waka!” gags that really get old fast. However, this does not make this movie a comedy. It is not even much of a dramedy. It is a romance drama!

A “serious-ish” romance drama!

In romance dramas, the bar for high concepts or details are not set high compared to genres such as science fiction or even fantasy. Even though it is set slightly higher than Rom-coms, you can get away with the bare minimum with romance dramas and that is actually preferable. This is because the more elaborate the concept is and more detailed the gimmick is, the less believable  romance drama movies become as we are actually reminded of reality more and more. This breaks the suspension of disbelief required for this genre movie.

This is what happens with “Beauty Inside” (2015) as the movie goes deep into the gimmick. If you really put your thinking cap on which the movie makes you do, a lot of the details start to make no sense. For example, the curse seems to work in terms of only the soul or mind remaining while the body changes to a copy of someone else’s. This means that the guy can understand Korean since that is associated with the mind , but he cannot speak Korean at all when in the body of someone who cannot speak Korean since a part of speaking is associated with the body. This is interesting but the movie immediately contradicts this by making the guy a carpenter. This profession requires more accurate motor skills than speaking a new language poorly. However, he is still a master craftsman in every body he inhabits.

Another example would be related to him travelling abroad. The movie has the guy travelling to Europe. But there is no way he could get the papers to make this happen with constantly shifting from one form to another. The movie makes a point to say that he has no way of proving his identity even within Korea. How would he be able to get on a plane? It is not like the movie kept showing that the guy and the people around him are barely capable enough to run a business. Oh the movie did exactly do that! I do not think that he would be able to smuggle himself out of the country.

Am I nitpicking?

If this was a wacky rom-com, I would say yes. But “Beauty Inside” (2015) makes the mistake of trying to be more serious in terms of the gimmick. “Beauty Inside” (2015) is still a basic romance drama in terms of its story with romance drama logic after all. In addition, once we get past the gimmick, not much happens for more than an hour leaving your brain idle and thus providing a lot of time to think.

Romance movies
In many of the reviews I read about this movie by both foreigners and Koreans, most displayed disappointment by saying “It ended up being just a romance movie.” And this is somewhat condescending to the genre.

Romance movies, including rom-coms, may not be high art but the majority of the movies made out there are not high art. In terms of writing, the average romance movie has as much going for it as your average action or superhero movie. It is just that one has explosions and the other has more kissing and estrogen.

They are for different audiences.

As a person who has seen more romance movies than 90% of the females in the world, I tend to respect Romance movies for what they are. I just watched a few Hallmark romance movies recently. And those do not have “great” writing but I enjoyed them for what they were. Also I like to see the now-over-the hill actresses they got to star in those movies.

The actresses are still likable!
And there is the nostalgia.

So, I thinks that the other reviewers were wrong.  “Beauty Inside” (2015) is not disappointing because it ended up being just a romance movie. There was no chance that this movie was not going to be anything but just a romance movie since the core of the story is rather cliché for even this genre. A gimmick is just a gimmick. It can make a movie slightly better. It cannot elevate a movie beyond what it is.

I mean “Beauty Inside” (2015) tries really hard to tiptoe around all of the complicated aspects associated with the gimmick including gender sexuality. You could do interesting things with the fact that the guy spent at least a few years of his life as a female if we go with the total random transformation idea. There is nothing in the movie to say otherwise. “Beauty Inside” (2015) tries to side step this avenue as much as it could which leads to the question “why make him also transform into women in the first place?”

Novelty maybe?

“Beauty Inside” (2015) is disappointing because it is not particularity great or even good for a romance movie.

No Character, only Idea
A lot of romance movies boil down to the chemistry between the couple and how likable the characters are. If you are able to conjure up a couple that the audience actually wants to end up together, half of the job is already done. The rest, you can either be lazy or try a little depending on how high you set your movie’s goals. However, you have to have a couple who will rock the audience’s hearts. “Beauty Inside” (2015) fails at this fundamental requirement mostly because of the nature of the gimmick. It is difficult to form an attractive couple when one side of the couple isn’t really a character but more of a concept or an idea.

Just think about what changing bodies every day means for a movie that spans months?

There is essentially no actual consistent love interest for Han Hyo-joo to interact with in the manner that the audience would care about. Han Hyo-joo just interacts with random cameo number 16 or something in scenes lasting only few minutes or even seconds. This whole absence of character is not really helped by the fact that younger actors such as Park Seo-joon who are given the most screen time are constantly outclassed in terms of acting by the random cameos. After a point, I could imagine this movie being a one woman play.

It could really work.

Beyond the gimmick, the disembodied character of the guy “Woo-Jin” has no more shape than his pshycial portrayal on screen. He could give Edward from “Twilight” a run for his money in a bland character competition. At least, Edward has some presence being overly moody and emo. Woo-Jin basically has no personality other than being one of the most boring character I’ve seen in movies for a while now.

You would think that being cursed would make him somewhat interesting. However, that was a bust. I think part of the character’s blandness comes from the basic logistics of working with more than a dozen actors and actresses playing the same character in the same movie. It is difficult enough keeping the character consistent with only one actor. As a result, it is just easier to make the character bland for coordination purposes.

However, this doesn’t explain everything. Woo-Jin is an extremely passive character. Even though the movie goes into detail about how he responded to his sudden out-of-the-blue curse, it also shows that he put no thought into examining and understanding what his situation is for more than 12 years living with the condition.

How more passive can a character get?

In fact, other than stalking Han Hyo-joo’s character during the first 20 minutes of this 127 minute movie, Woo-Jin shows utterly no agency in the movie. He just reacts to the situation and the actions of Han Hyo-joo’s character, YiSoo. This leads me to ask the question “Whose story is this?” It is not Woo-Jin’s story.

Whose story is this?
Structurally, the cursed guy “Woo-Jin” is the protagonist of the movie. However, story-wise, Han Hyo-joo’s character “YiSoo” ends up being the protagonist of the story. Woo-Jin does not really change from start to finish as a character other than getting a girlfriend. It is YiSoo who goes through drastic changes. It is she who has the most to lose. It is she who basically makes all the decisions throughout the movie. In that way, I was reminded of the movie “Grease” (1978). While feminists debate the ending of that movie, at least, Sandy is the one with agency. It is just that her agency led her to wear tight jeans and make up like a punk.

Or was it spandex?

I rather support the idea to make YiSoo the protagonist of the story since that is the only way the story works with the gimmick really. The problem is that the structure of the movie still treats Woo-Jin as the protagonist putting too much emphasis on the inconsistent disembodied soul. The only consistent thing with the character is the voice over narrating the story…I think..? First I generally dislike voice over narration to tell a story. Second, the delivery is so bland that I am not sure if the movie used the same voice actor throughout. I cannot find who did the narration online.

As the real center of this movie, this is Han Hyo-joo’s movie to win. And she is pretty good with the role even though the role isn’t particularly given too much to do. While she is basically the only one who has any agency in the movie, she doesn’t have much to do other than kiss a lot of actors and actresses. This is because the movie has some serious pacing issues.

The Pace
Rather than being a cohesive narrative, “Beauty Inside” (2015) is really 2 one hour episodes tapped together. The first episode is the “stalking and let’s date” story. The second is the “we suddenly realize we have problems and resulting drama” story. Both stories are underdeveloped because they basically have no middle section. Most of the story is taken up with setup and then the story rushed to the end. So, we are left unfulfilled with a lot of down time watching filler.

A similar type of movie, “Il Mare” (2000) starring Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae is also not a fast paced movie. However, it has somewhat of a more cohesive narrative albeit filled with little character interactions and developments.  We get to know the characters. We know their hopes and dreams. This is not the same case with “Beauty Inside” (2015). This movie is relatively thin on that aspect although not totally void of them also. We get to know somethings about the character but not much. Thus we are left being idle for large sections of the movie. It does not help that visually the movie is not interesting.

Yes, the movie is pretty!

“Beauty Inside” (2015) has the typical sunlight filtered through silk screen picturesque feel we see commonly in this type of movie. The movie is lit and shot competently with decent production designs. At the same time, it is very monotonous. There simply is not enough variety to the visuals to distract one from the fact that nothing is happening on screen.

Talking about nothing happening in a romance…

Is this Love?
Watching the “couple” interact on screen, I am not sure that they are actually in love. The guy is a bland weirdo loner without a consistent identity. So, it is more natural that he is obsessive. However, the girl is relatively “normal” other than the fact that she doesn’t have the common sense to run when someone is acting all creepy and talking crazy. She has “normal” parents and a “normal” sister who all seem to care about her. So, why is she in love with this guy?

I’m not sure where the attraction comes from. Is it maternal instincts? The movie is never clear about the reason for the attraction. Or could it be more of a fetish thing?

You can basically justify having one night stand sex with numerous people across all genders, nationalities, and ages without being called a “W**re” because technically you are being monogamous. And you don’t even have to put the effort into going out to bars and clubs to pick up guys or girls. Is it then that “Beauty Inside” (2015) is basically “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015) but for the unabandoned random hookup crowd?

The movie itself really tiptoes around this aspect most of the time. Then, suddenly does “Oh you are wearing a hot body today. Let’s have sex!” thing. Its overall attitude is rather muddled on the subject and the approach to problems associated with the subject is in fact very superficial.

Not something really “Love” can solve on its own.
It is easier to believe the cursed guy satisfies the girl’s kinky fetish.
That is a match made in heaven!

And still no lesbian stuff! I am a guy and getting curious about that aspect of changing into a female is instinctual. No wonder the protagonist is such a non-character.

Joking aside…
Why go there when you aren’t going to use it?

At the End…
“Beauty Inside” (2015) is a standard cliché filled romance drama that is in love with a gimmick that it cannot structurally support. Thus, the audience has a difficult time falling in love with the couple when the movie is touching itself on the couch next to them.

For those who liked “Il Mare” (2000), you can get through this movie and even enjoy it. And for 20 minutes or so, the gimmick itself is interesting. You may even have a hot crush on it since we get to see a lot of actors in a movie at the same time.  However, once that gets old, you are left with a standard romance drama with a not very engaging romance which is the core appeal of a romance movie. While Han Hyo-joo is the standout in this movie, the male component of the romance drags her down a bit. It is not like the case of “Love Forecast” (2015) in which Moon Chae-Won elevated a not very good rom-com.

“Love Forecast” (2015)

In other words, “Beauty Inside” (2015) is not a great romance movie. It is not even a pretty good one. During this 127 minute movie, I spent about 80 minutes of it making up better movies in my head. I’m not even that good of a story teller! “Beauty Inside” (2015) is basically nothing memorial except for the gimmick. Even with it, it is just okay… I give it a C grade.

Score: C or 4.5/10

This was Prof. AKIA with a review of “Beauty inside” (2015). Thanks for reading this review and comment bellow proving that I have more than bots hitting this site.  You can do it as a guest. Please follow me on Facebook, twitter and such. 

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