"Green Chair" is billed as a racy forbidden romance between an older woman and an underage boy, and it is. Sort of. Director Park Cheol-Su doesn’t follow the narrative path we’d expect (or hope for?) in the story of divorced 32-year-old Mun-hee (Suh Jung, of "The Isle") and 19-year-old Hyeon (newcomer Shim Ji-ho) (and yes, the fact that the age of consent in Korea is 20 does take a little edge off the story) — the film starts off in medias res, after the meet-cute (over a CD in a music store, as we eventually glimpse in sparse flashbacks), the initial affair and the pair’s discovery. Mun-hee has been jailed for her taste for squab, if you will, and we see her, just released, greeted by a swarm of reporters, and, unexpectedly, Hyeon, who’s come to pick her up despite the fact that he doesn’t quite have his drivers license yet.
Mun-hee obviously didn’t expect to see Hyeon again, and the two, after some conversational awkwardness, abscond to a hotel for several sessions of nicely lit, imaginative sex. After that, she tries to leave him, but he pursues her to her friend’s house where they settle in to tentatively flesh out a relationship. We garner from Mun-hee’s insecurities that she had never even hoped Hyeon wanted something more permanent or emotionally involved, and now that he seems to, she’s torn, terrified and vulnerable.
If we were given more insight into Mun-hee’s past, Hyeon’s love for her and patient breaking down of her barriers might be more poignant. But, left only with the fact that she was unhappily married, lonely, and sad, it’s hard to see her erratic behavior throughout the film as caused by past trauma, and easier to just chalk it up to her being a hysterics-prone, schizophrenic bitch queen. Suh Jung has a wonderfully brittle edge to her beauty, but that doesn’t make many of her character’s actions (which include attacking her best friend based on a dream she had and throwing Hyeon’s phone out of the window) at all explicable.
Hyeon is no less of a cypher, a baby-faced, goofy, food-adoring extrovert who’s happy to be objectified by the women in the film as well as the camera (in a refreshing change of pace, we get to ogle the nude Shim Ji-ho far more than his co-star). We get a hint of unhappiness in his past, too, but it’s not until the film’s forced, didactic conclusion that his role really becomes clear.
Mun-hee and Hyeon hold a dinner party, inviting everyone involved in their lives, including their parents, Mun-hee’s ex-husband, the policeman who questioned them both, and a younger girl who’s been pursuing Hyeon. Each of these parties voices their concern about the couple directly to the camera, and each represents some aspect of constrictive traditional Korean society that the couple shrugs off, emerging triumphant, having won everyone’s support. Hyeon faces down Mun-hee’s chauvinistic ex, in the process revealing himself as a sort of idealized feminist construction of a lover — young, virile, sensitive, gentle, protective, adoring of Mun-hee when she "doesn’t try to look younger," eager to commit, and a great cook. Hyeon might be intended as wistful template for a new generation of Korean men — unfortunately, he never comes across as an actual human being.