We’ve all been there. Picture the scene. It’s 3AM and we’re asking ourselves why we ever thought it would be a good idea to watch David Lynch’s Inland Empire again. It’s ugly, clunky, makes next to no sense and is at times incredibly frustrating to sit through. Then your mind starts to make the inevitable assumption that “any tool could make this” – a common response to Lynch’s and indeed many a surrealist’s work. The fact that it was shot all on DV and adds more fuel to the flames.
But could anybody produce a home-made surrealist masterpiece with a digital camera?
Somebody else tried that back in the year 2000, pre-dating Lynch by a good five to six years. That somebody is called Gee-woong Nam, and his film is called Teenage Hooker Becomes a Killing Machine, or Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine.
TEENAGE HOOKER BECOMES A KILLING MACHINE
original title: Daehakno-yeseo maechoon-hadaka tomaksalhae danghan yeogosaeng
ajik Daehakno-ye Issda (yup)
South Korea, 2000, Gee-woong Nam
The film begins with a dreamy pop song, as our protagonist, the Hooker (played gamely by So-Yun Lee) walks in slow motion through the city streets, dressed in her school uniform. The credits scroll on the screen.
Five minutes later and this is still going on. Now, don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate a good long credit sequence. Sit me down in front of Sergio Leonie’s Once Upon a Time in the West and I’ll happily dribble all over the screen during its bravura ten minute opening credit scene, but in that movie every frame presented is vital and intense. It just happens that the credits are rolling at the same time. In Teenage Hooker, the credits are moving so slowly because the film itself is moving in slow motion and nothing is actually happening. They aren’t the most frustrating credits I’ve ever seen (that dubious honour goes to Chester N. Turner’s classic Black Devil Doll from Hell) but they’re certainly the least interesting.
Little did I know the director was merely preparing me for what was to come.
So now that we’ve had just under ten minutes to get to grips with our protagonist, we get to see her at work as she picks up guys on the street by offering them the “Voluntary Date-Rape” service, which translates to having a quick bonk round the back of a bungalow. We get to watch this happening in all of its less than erotic glory. The soundtrack is blaring out a song that I can only describe as being a cross between standard J-Pop combined with the Benny Hill theme. During the scene, the Hooker is checking her text messages out of boredom, and I’m guilty to say that I was doing the same thing.
However, inside the bungalow is an angry lady who is so shocked by what’s going on outside her window that she calls her son (Dae-tong Kim) to deal with them. When he shows up, it is revealed that he knows the Hooker from school – he’s her teacher. Not only that, but he has a seriously freaky face that oddly looks as much like a mask as it does real. Now this is where the film gets really weird.
The Hooker pleads with the teacher to let her go, and she offers him a “Forty Grand Special”. He’s unconvinced and demands a “Fifty Grand Special”. And what is a “Fifty Grand Special”, I hear you ask? Well…
Yeah, so it appears that for fifty grand you can have a bit of a dance and a hilarious bike ride.
After this scene, everything becomes difficult to follow, so apologies if everything else I write makes no sense from this point forwards. This, in order, is what happens during the rest of the twenty minute date sequence. After playing around on a swing in the teacher’s front room, they retreat to a glowing bed where we have to endure a seriously awkward sex scene. As soon as they finish, the Hooker tells her teacher that she’s become pregnant. He responds in a way any man in his position would – he invites three friends over to dismember her. (Am I right guys??!) Just before they do this, the Teenage Hooker has a dream where she’s trying to escape from the scene, but the teacher catches up with her and shoots her in the belly, which explodes, revealing a floating foetus, which is still attached to the umbilical cord.
Upon waking from this dream, she gets chopped up. This scene is intercut with footage of an opera singer belting out a tune. The music is overdubbed with the sounds of looped laughter, belonging to her murderer’s
Are you keeping up?
Once the Hooker is disposed of in individual plastic bags, she is found by a nameless goon in a suit and sunglasses. He takes the bags to a warehouse where an old lady with a white afro stitches her back together, using a sowing machine. Miraculously, and against all scientific odds, this actually works and the Hooker is back to business in no time. And not only has she been stitched back together, but she’s also been turned into a half cyborg killing machine and before you can say “bollocks to the plot”, she’s sent out on her first mission – to kill a nondescript person in a club for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
I’m a fan of shootouts, however poorly presented. There’s something about people firing guns mindlessly that just grabs my attention and doesn’t let go. There was a glorious period in the 80s when people firing guns = $$$. Great examples of this era are The Terminator, Robocop and Predator. The shootouts in Teenage Hooker Becomes a Killing Machine are not as good as the movies I just referenced, but after forty odd minutes of no shootouts, I was happy to see one. It was only when the shootout was completed and the hooker tries to make her escape through a bricked up toilet window that I realized they were riffing on Nikita. And poorly too. It’s not all worthless though as the Hooker is shot in the boob, so we get to see a ridiculous exploded rubber boob covered in green gloop and badly placed wires.
Realizing she’s not human, the Teenage Hooker has a Robocop moment and decides to hunt own her murderers and takes them all out. It’s all pretty underwhelming, but the climax with her freaky faced teacher is decent and features a great moment, synonymous with all credible female revenge flicks, involving some cringe-worthy scrotum violence.
And then, to the tune of another poorly chosen pop ballad, the credits begin to roll and the movie ends. I’m left wondering what the hell I just watched.
Teenage Hooker Becomes a Killing Machine is a challenging film to watch. But you can’t deny that the director’s voice can be heard clearly throughout, even if it’s difficult to work out what he was trying to say. There’s a lot of cool stuff to enjoy. It’s just a shame that it’s all overshadowed by technical incompetence.
In the sub-sub-sub-genre of home-made, digitally shot, surrealist cinema, I’d say Inland Empire is the better film. But if you prefer your art-house flicks to contain scenes of exploding boobs and people being shot in the dick, then you should probably stick to this.
Teenage Hooker Becomes a Killing Machine is available on DVD through the ace Third Window Films under the slightly altered title Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine.