Pas­sions re­vived

> Decades after steam­ing up the big screen, the erotic thriller genre is set for a ten­ta­tive re­turn with a new wave of films

The Sun (Malaysia) - - ENTERTAINMENT -

THREE decades ago, Fa­tal At­trac­tion her­alded the age of the erotic thriller – crime pot­boil­ers fea­tur­ing lead­ing men swap­ping sug­ges­tive di­a­logue and bod­ily flu­ids with be­witch­ing but mur­der­ous femme fa­tales.

Movies like Ba­sic In­stinct and Sliver en­joyed ac­claim and big box-of­fice re­ceipts dur­ing the 1990s, but within a few years, the genre had died out, usurped by a new wave of smarter thrillers that swapped fe­male flesh for so­phis­ti­cated scriptwrit­ing.

But while the Amer­i­can ap­petite for erotic thrillers is at an all-time low, the genre is bur­geon­ing abroad, with France’s Stranger by the Lake and Blue is the Warm­est Colour (both 2013), Italy’s I am Love (2009) and China’s Lust, Cau­tion (2007) – all prov­ing crit­i­cal and box-of­fice hits.

South Korean di­rec­tor Park Chan-wook is hop­ing to tempt Amer­i­can fans of the genre back into the movie theatre with his own for­eign-lan­guage cel­e­bra­tion of sex and in­trigue.

The Hand­maiden tells the story of a Ja­panese heiress in 1930s-oc­cu­pied Korea and her af­fair with a Korean woman who is hired to be her maid but is se­cretly plot­ting to con her out of her for­tune.

Adapted from the award­win­ning Sarah Waters novel Finger­smith, the nar­ra­tive is driven not just by its many lurid plot twists, but also scenes of ex­plicit, metic­u­lously chore­ographed sex.

It cap­ti­vated South Kore­ans in June, at­tract­ing a record 1.8 mil­lion cin­ema­go­ers, and has since amassed a re­spectable US$32 mil­lion (RM131.2 mil­lion) and has been sold to 175 coun­tries.

Park says he holds in high re­gard many Amer­i­can erotic thrillers from the 1990s, in­clud­ing Ba­sic In­stinct and mafia story Bound (1996), di­rected by the Wa­chowski sib­lings three years be­fore they made The Ma­trix.

“But it wasn’t a ques­tion of me say­ing I’m sad to see this genre dy­ing out and wanted to bring it back. There was noth­ing like that go­ing on,” Park told AFP dur­ing a re­cent visit to Los An­ge­les.

“When I set out to make this film it was purely a func­tion of me be­ing drawn to the source ma­te­rial.”

His­to­ri­ans trace the roots of the US erotic thriller to the early 1970s, when the run­away suc­cess of adult movie Deep Throat em­bold­ened con­ven­tional film­mak­ers to push the bound­aries on sex­ual con­tent in movies such as Last Tango in Paris.

Amer­i­can di­rec­tor Brian De Palma took erot­ica out of the art­house and into the main­stream with the 1980 Dressed to Kill, star­ring Michael Caine, and fol­lowed it up seven years later with the steamy Body Dou­ble.

But it was an­other film re­leased in 1987 – Adrian Lyne’s manic slasher Fa­tal At­trac­tion – that de­fined the genre, pack­ing out cin­e­mas, get­ting mul­ti­ple Os­car nom­i­na­tions and en­rich­ing the English lan­guage with the term ‘bunny boiler’.

Paul Ver­ho­even’s sleazy but sexy who­dun­nit Ba­sic In­stinct took the erotic thriller down­mar­ket in 1992 but be­came one of the big­gest hits of the decade, gross­ing US$353 mil­lion (RM1.45 bil­lion) world­wide.

The movie – about a nov­el­ist who stabs her vic­tims with an ice pick while en­gaged in ac­ro­batic sex acts – fa­mously fea­tured an in­ter­ro­ga­tion scene in which Sharon Stone crosses and un­crosses her legs to re­veal she isn’t wear­ing any un­der­wear.

“If Fa­tal At­trac­tion was the erotic thriller genre’s Jaws, then Ba­sic In­stinct was its Star Wars,” writes Ryan Lam­bie of Den of Geek.

The film led an up­surge of erotic thrillers, with cult hit Poi­son Ivy, Stone’s next film Sliver, Madonna’s Body of Ev­i­dence and Dis­clo­sure, all cash­ing in on the pub­lic’s ap­petite for sex and death.

But a suc­ces­sion of lower qual­ity erotic thrillers bombed at the box of­fice as ap­a­thy for the genre set in.

Some an­a­lysts have blamed the rise of in­ter­net pornog­ra­phy for strip­ping erotic thrillers of their mys­tique while oth­ers claim a resur­gence in con­ser­va­tive val­ues fol­low­ing the elec­tion of US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2001 fin­ished off the genre.

Shawn Robbins, a se­nior an­a­lyst at Box­Of­, be­lieves the erotic thriller died out sim­ply be­cause the world moved on, as it al­ways does.

“I think this is largely due to a cycli­cal shift in cul­tural tastes, es­pe­cially among thriller and hor­ror fans,” he told AFP.

“Cer­tain gen­res tend to fol­low – or set – trends for a cer­tain era, and in re­cent years, those have grav­i­tated to­wards more su­per­nat­u­ral and psy­cho­log­i­cal scare tac­tics.” – AFP-Relaxnews

Aside from Park’s The Hand­maiden (left), other films that have stirred up our senses in­clude (top, from left) Lust, Cau­tion; I am Love; and Blue is the Warm­est Colour.

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