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Exploration of beauty is only skin deep

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The South Korean romantic drama "The Beauty Inside" has both an intriguing back story and a fantastical plot. Based on a series of early American shorts from 2012, in which a man goes to sleep and wakes up every day in a new body, it’s an often charming, magical-realist illustration of the old maxim that beauty is only skin deep.

But it could have been so much more.

"THE BEAUTY INSIDE"
Not rated
***
Opens Friday at Pearlridge West

Woo-Jin (played by 21 actors over the course of the movie) has grown used to his condition, which he has been afflicted with since turning 18. He lives his life in solitary as a furniture designer, dealing only with his customers online. Only his childhood best friend (Lee Dong-hwi) and mother know his secret that one day he might be an elderly man and the next a young boy, a woman, or even a non-Korean "foreigner."

But then he meets E-Soo (Hyo-ju Han), a furniture retailer he falls madly in love with from afar. When he wakes up as a handsome 20-something man (Park Seo-jun), he decides to ask her out. Sparks fly and he manages to keep himself awake for three days so he can keep seeing her. Of course, he ends up nodding off — and he wakes up as a pudgy, older man. Does he then just disappear from her life or tell her the awful truth?

That question might have had more resonance had not so many of the bodies Woo-Jin morphs into just happen to be good-looking Korean guys. It would have been a much more compelling dilemma for both Woo-Jin and E-Soo, and perhaps a more critical look at Korean standards of beauty, if there’d been a wider variation in his appearance — not just in terms of ethnicity and nationality but physical ability as well. It’s easier to deal with a shape-shifting affliction when there’s a good chance you’re going to be a cover model in the morning. (The cast includes some of South Korea’s most talked-about young stars.)

Still, "The Beauty Inside" has a whimsical appeal that nearly carries it through its too-long, two-hour running time. In this case, though, it’s what outside that matters.

In Korean with English subtitles

Review by Cary Darling, Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram

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