Comedy film ‘Men of Plastic’ takes on serious subjects related to plastic surgery industry
It is no secret that a nip and tuck is widely associated as part of the K-beauty regime.
Over the past two decades, Apgujeong-dong — an upscale neighborhood in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, has fashioned itself as the beauty belt of Asia with plastic surgery clinics on nearly every block of the neighborhood.
And how this area became what it is today is quite the story, albeit not a pretty one. Comedy film “Men of Plastic” tells that story from the perspective of money-hungry individuals who pioneered the now-lucrative empire.
The film set in 2007 is about an ambitious businessman, portrayed by Ma Dong-seok, in Apgujeong who has a “killer idea” to open a 15-story plastic surgery clinic by partnering with a skilled plastic surgeon whose medical license has been suspended, portrayed by Jung Kyung-ho.
Once the two pair up, nothing stands in their way up to the top, and the film takes audiences through a series of real controversies that have and continue to haunt the local plastic surgery industry such as ghost surgeries (the substitution of surgeons without the patient’s knowledge and permission while they are under anesthesia), unlicensed doctors, jarring marketing methods, plastic surgery tourism, illegal handouts of propofol (a short-acting sedative) and cosmetic filler fraud.
But how these events are presented in relation to the protagonists who lack any moral sense in the face of money, makes the film feel insensitive rather than funny.
“Men in Plastic” is meaningful in that, whether or not it was the intention, it highlights decades-old problems like beauty as a commodity and rigid physical standards — both of which Korean society is still in sore need of some reflection on.
“Men in Plastic” opened in local theaters on Nov. 30.
Below are excerpts from interviews with “Men of Plastic” actors Jung and Oh Na-ra, who plays the head of the plastic surgery clinic’s consultation office, with the local press on Nov. 29 and 30.
Q: What meaning does the location of Apgujeong-dong have to you?
Jung: In my mind, it is a place full of lust and desire. It is filled with people who want to succeed in life. I can even feel that passion when I am sitting at a cafe in the neighborhood.
Oh: When I was young, I held this romantic ideal of the neighborhood. Whenever I had a chance to go there, I would put on my best, most fancy clothes, with a sort of fluttery heart. Now, the place feels a bit more comfortable to me and has become a place where I can just have a nice cup of coffee with friends. I am very thankful and proud of ow far that I have come.
How was working with Ma Dong-seok (also known as Don Lee)?
Jung: I met Ma some 20 years ago, before either of us had debuted as actors. I had wanted to work with him on set ever since, and finally got the chance in this movie. What amazed me the most about Ma is his appreciation for the staff and fellow actors. He produces a lot of films including this one, and I think he has become an important figure in the local cinema industry as a person who opens up new opportunities for talented underdogs.
Oh: Acting with Ma was like nothing that I had experienced before. He is such an unique actor with this unexpected rhythm or beat of acting. I never knew what he was going to say or do on set. Just reacting to his acting produced really funny scenes.
How was acting in a comedy film?
Jung: It was difficult. I think comedy is actually one of the hardest genres to act in. A lot of the lines in “Men of Plastic” were written like a script for YouTube. Many comedic scenes were difficult to approach because they were so hard to prepare for. I felt like sometimes, there was no way I could practice certain scenes beforehand — it had to be just done on the spot with the flow of the actors present.
Oh: Comedies are hard because everyone has to find it funny, not just me or the people on set. I am the sort of actor who prepares ad-libs in advance. So for this film, I studied the script closely and wrote in ad-libs like real lines. It is at times like this when I again realize how difficult the jobs of comedians must be. It certainly helped that I had opportunities to appear on the variety show “Sixth Sense” (2020). What also helped was my time in musical theater earlier in my career. I was cast in several romantic comedies in those days, and what I learned was that the most important thing about comedy was confidence. You have to believe that what you are saying is funny and you have to convince the audience to laugh with you.
How would you describe your characters and were there any specific people that you were inspired for the parts?
Jung: My character, Ji-woo, is a sensitive, selfish and a bit of a cold doctor, actually much like my previous role in the tvN drama “Hospital Playlist” (2020-21). I did have concerns about taking on such a similar role, but after discussions with the movie’s director, I made up my mind to do it. After all, it isn’t the occupation of my characters that matter. Ji-woo was not only inspired, but I believe actually based on a real person. I had a chance to meet with him and we had a few drinks together as well. He is still in the plastic surgery industry.
Oh: My character Mi-jeong is the head of the plastic surgery clinic’s consultation office. She is a smooth talker, and she sort of hides behind her loud voice to conceal her true self. You can never tell if what she is saying is real or not, but she gets people to believe in her words. In that sense, she is sort of mysterious.
BY LEE JIAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]