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Oh Yeong (played by Lee Joon) is a bit, well, deranged. He has a tendency to take his acting just a little too far, turning characters that are just supposed to be sort of violent and creepy into ones that are really violent and creepy. One thing can be said for sure about the man- he certainly isn’t boring, and it’s understandable how Oh Yeong gets sucked into the world of stardom as a gleeful co-conspirator.
What makes “Rough Play” work is how, on a very basic level, Oh Yeong simply isn’t particularly likable. Every time he alienates or angers another person, the antipathy he receives in turn is fully well-deserved. The guy’s a rapist- not in the traditional evil stalker way, but rather in the far more realistic portrayal of him just being a man with no sense of inhibition who will take a romantic encounter too far, simply because he has no concept of restraint or self-control.
The film industry is actually quite well-suited to Oh Yeong, and he to it, on multiple levels. Oh Yeong desires recognition and an outlet to basically do whatever he wants, and his career as a screen actor gives it to him. The movie professionals don’t particularly care what he does or who he does it to. Oh Yeong is a colorful character, and whatever that color may be, it will look pretty on-screen.
Just to be perfectly clear, though, the film industry doesn’t look the other way at what Oh Yeong does. Most of the time he does it in full sight of witnesses. They just don’t care. It’s a very literal apathy borne mainly from how little any character in this film cares about the long term. Another day another series of pleasures- whether or not any of this has anything to do with film is incidental. Although the fact that similar lewed acts of violence are also seen in the movies Oh Yeong makes is not to be ignored.
Oh Yeong has difficulty separating acting from reality. So, too, does director Shin Yeon-shick mess around with the audience’s perception of “Rough Play” by deliberately structuring the film’s real-life encounters similarly to the moments in front of the camera. When the time finally comes for Oh Yeong to face consequences for his actions, there’s the same deliberately forced script-like dictation as in his actual work. He gets confused mainly because nobody’s overacting- even Oh Yeong himself is unusually subdued.
Likewise, the ending hits the same meandering tread of the rest of the film. If it was ever possible for Oh Yeong to shed the deranged demeanor we see from the very beginning, that hope is long gone by the time we get to the final few scenes, and his grip on reality is just as tenuous as ever. And then, the adventure continues. Yes, among all the other queer shades of complexity abounding in this incredibly dense film, there’s also the sad truth that Oh Yeong’s life has no meaningful structure, and probably never will. The man may be punished in a vacuum for individual events, but his career, defined in large part by the kind of person Oh Yeong is, will continue on the same roller coaster ride demonstrated by his actual emotions. So, there’s plenty of material here to justify a watch. Just be well-advised that this film contains copious amounts of gruesome introspection, or lack there-of.
Review by William Schwartz