Mission Sex Control opens as an almost farcical comedy. The Korean President (circa 1972) meets with his cabinet to discuss family planning and its effect on the GDP. The meeting devolves into a screaming match between two cabinet members, then the opening titles splash across the screen. It all seems very comic, even as the film proper gets going. After that prologue, the leads are immediately established–Kim Jeong-eun as the family planning counselor taking the message to a rural village, Lee Beom-su as the villager who helps her.
Kim and Lee play very well with each other from their first scene, which is important, since she immediately starts relying on him for help. The film’s still very funny as the two eventually convince the villagers to listen. It’s hard to see Lee as anything but a comic actor and the first half of Mission Sex Control does nothing to suggest he’s going to be doing something else. Eventually, however, he does. Some time after the halfway mark, the film takes a drastic, unexpected turn toward the dramatic and personal.
Ahn Jin-woo’s direction–and the film’s full and vivid Panavision frame–really suggests a comedy. With the transition to the tragic, Ahn introduces all the consequences the comedy in the first half disguised. It’s not a deceptive move; Kim and the viewer experiencing these repercussions in unison. There’s a good surprise at the end, maybe one I should have been expecting, but Ahn does a great job presenting it. He keeps the comedic sensibilities well into the dramatic portion of the film, only supplanting it in the very end for some key scenes. It’s in these scenes too where the characters, who have been mild caricatures, fully form.
The film’s got a lot of complexities. Lee’s character is probably the fullest, even though Kim is the protagonist. But Kim’s there to accompany the viewer on the journey (the modern viewer, the film’s only a couple years old). Kim’s got a character, but she’s also got a real narrative purpose. Ahn has a bit of trouble establishing her, using a lot of subtle moves to get it done in the end. They’re really nice moves too and he applies similar ones to other characters as well. The film has a large cast of characters and Ahn can’t give all of them the treatment, but he gives it to enough the film reveals itself to be a lot bigger than it seems throughout.
Both the film’s length–a lot happens as the plot develops–and the composition complement that unperceived depth. Something about the widescreen allows for there to be more room. It’s a strange, but natural relationship and the film might be the finest example of the genre fluidity of Korean cinema.
Written and directed by Ahn Jin-woo; director of photography, Kim Yun-su; edited by Park Gok-ji; music by Park Ho-jun; production designer, Chen Ihn-han; produced by Tony M. Kim; released by Lotte Entertainment.
Starring Lee Beom-su (Suk-gu), Kim Jeong-eun (Miss Park), Byeon Hie-bong (Village Chief Kang), Jeon Mi-seon (Soo-ni), Ahn Nae-sang (Chang-su) and Woo Hyeon (Chang-hyuk).