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Movie Review: Sex Volunteer (Korean)

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In recent years, it is not uncommon to see someone in a wheelchair selling tissue papers on the streets. Or someone holding a white cane – closely guided by a loved one – walking around shopping malls. What is one’s perception of these handicapped individuals? A person who deserves sympathy? Maybe. A person whom we should shower compassion on? Most probably. How about someone whom we may have a romantic interest? Hardly.

It’s a cruel and sad truth.

This basically sums up what the film “Sex Volunteer” (2009) is all about: exploring the sexual aspects of the handicapped – specifically quadriplegics suffering from cerebral palsy (but touching on issues which all if not most handicapped individuals can relate to). Throw in volunteers who offer sex (yes, no monetary transactions or love is involved) and we get a movie which discusses controversial issues.

Does handicapped individuals require romantic love (since they have the same biological makeup like the rest of us)? Assuming so, how are they able to acquire romantic love? How can romantic love translates into physical intimacy? Are there people who are able and/or willing to love them in a romantic fashion?  These are questions that the film touches on, interesting albeit sensitive questions that are often skipped and passed over in mainstream society– either to avoid embarrassment or to steer clear of awkwardness.

However, “Sex Volunteer” chooses to break the norm by staring at these issues right in the face, exploring this inner dilemma in vivid details and offering insights – materialising in the form of volunteerism. What makes this film interesting is less its content but more on the fact that the insights it provides is equally if not more controversial. This creates a tunneling effect in the minds of its viewers as audiences are gradually pulled into a mental void while the film progresses, making them think and ponder, but never offering a solid solution. Only possibilities – questioning morality and ethics along the way.

Director Cho Kyeong-duk’s adoption of a documentary filming style for this film is pure genius, opening the film with suspense, continuing it with introspective exploration coupled with a psychedelic look into the parallel worlds of prostitutes (who – akin to the handicaps-  are deemed to be locked in their own worlds) and concluding with a film made within a film, a life trapped within a life.

A strong parallel can be drawn between “Sex Volunteer” and the Hong Kong film “After This Our Exile”  (父子)(2006), with a similar thematic element of embitterment running through them. While “After This Our Exile”  touches on the estranged relationship between a couple with their son serving as the only bond keeping them together, “Sex Volunteer” takes a long, hard and loving look at trapped souls within tortured, frail bodies – with only love and hope keeping them alive.

Therefore, it is indeed comforting and inspiring to discover that the handicapped are more courageous than most healthy individuals, putting in their greatest efforts to live a life of normality to the best of their abilities and realising life with their aspirations and dreams – while not forgetting to love others and  themselves at the same time. And in the end, just like all of us, it will be death that will claim them, not despair, melancholiness or despondency.

This film is the perfect testament and serves as an exemplary example of the fact that we are able to give love even when it is not reciprocated. It inspires hope and optimism in the midst of challenges and more significantly, the realisation that it’s the handicapped individuals portrayed in this film who accomplish this feat will make all if not most of us reflect on our lives.

And when we next encounter a handicapped person along the streets, it might be nice to cast them a smile of understanding, a look of appreciation, and a glance of mercy.

P.S: There will be a movie screening of this film on 23rd July 2011 at Sinema Old School, 7pm. Tickets booking details are here.

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