Intimate Strangers – London Korean Film Festival 2020 – Film Review

An intimate dinner setting with friends sounds innocuous enough within Intimate Strangers. That is until a game of Truth is suggested. Intimate Strangers featured within the London Korean Film Festival’s Special Focus strand on Friends and Family. Intimate Strangers presents that scenario questioning whether honesty is the best policy despite most people’s belief that they are completely transparent with their closest friends. It is a simple premise but Intimate Strangers successfully creates a tense atmosphere over the course of dinner and requires an internal examination of the subtle barriers constructed within friendships. Is it truly wise to allow dinner party guests to be privy to all of the mobile phone conversations received during an evening? Intimate Strangers builds on such an intriguing concept with humorous effect.

Indeed, smartphones are quite often kept very close to their owners but possess such a wealth of personal information that extends beyond passwords and could unveil intimate secrets and a secret life. Intimate Strangers reflects that notion effectively remarking that ‘People live Three Lives – a public life, a private life and a secret life’, it is certainly food for thought and it is captivatingly illustrated within the film.

Seok-Ho (Cho Jin-Woong) and Ye-Jin (Ji-Soo Kim) are the successful married couple as the hosts of the dinner party as a housewarming. The other guests are their lifetime friends who have all shared many aspects of their lives intimately with each other. As such, playing a game of Truth seems like the perfect device to revitalise any dull dinner conversations, but could we all feel comfortable knowing that our mobile phones are positioned within the middle of the table within anyone else’s grasp? It is intoxicating to watch the interactions unfold particularly as the audience remains complicit with the knowledge of the truth that some characters attempt to hide.

Dinner party in Intimate Strangers
Dinner party in Intimate Strangers

Intimate Strangers provides that claustrophobic atmosphere as the main location is within an apartment and at a dinner table. However, the tonal shifts assist in creating that level of unease as the initial light conversational mood becomes darker across the evening as innermost thoughts are revealed. Yes, at moments some of the conversation revelations seem contrived but the exposure of elements of guilt, class rivalry and homophobia create a riveting dynamic. The machinations in effect, as some of the guests have bigger secrets to hide than others, lead to such extremely humorous scenarios. Intimate Strangers certain excels in creating humorous scenarios amongst the tension.

It is due to such a stellar ensemble cast that the execution of this premise is so mesmerising. The cast deliver some very expressive, credible performances as the pawns within the dinner game. However, the question does arise as to just how willing some of the group are to comply with the level of honesty required in the game. Intimate Strangers examines just how helpful honesty truly can be as it may ultimately be hurtful to discover. It is therefore fascinating to observe the psychology that leads to an intimate group of friends effectively becoming intimate strangers.

Whilst Intimate Strangers is mainly a one location film, it has been tautly directed by Lee Jae-Gyu. The film’s witty dialogue with an analogy of mobile phone types to describe the genders – men are like Android phones and women are like I-Phones prevent the film from being buried under the weight of any philosophical ideologies. It is a successful formula as Intimate Strangers is a remake of the Italian film Perfect Strangers which has been subject to several re-makes worldwide.

At times, the construction of Intimate Strangers resembles a play and may suffer as a result of a sense of rigidity. It is overall an enjoyable, humorous film questioning the interaction of honesty, secrecy and deceit within our lives despite any honourable intentions for complete honesty. The film’s denouement is perhaps surprising but it is one that will linger and provides good substance for a discussion of Intimate Stranger’s central themes of friendship and honesty.

Intimate Strangers provides that platform for reflection with such an enthralling, well-directed tale which will leave its audience wanting to discover more about the intricacies within the lives of such friends who become strangers.

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