Searching for the elephant aka What the hell did I just watch?


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So I just finished watching “Searching for the Elephant and I’m not quite sure how to explain it. I’m not even sure what i even watched. and that is my review – baozisaur on tumblr

I posted that comment from  tumblr user baozisaour because it is one of the most common reactions I’ve seen towards this movie, and it also represents mine. If I was asked to describe Searching for the elephant in one word, I would go with CRAZY

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I have watched this movie more than once and I have come to realize that I actually “enjoy” it. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that it is “good”. If you read critics you’ll find mixed reviews, but I am no critics so I can only give you my impressions. However, from this moment on, I plead insanity and I shall not be made responsible if by any chance, I end up persuading anyone to watch this. I am convinced that one needs to possess a certain amount of coo-cooness to enjoy this movie

Ok, on to the rambling

First I’d like to say that I find the posters for this movie to be in poor taste and they don’t represent what the movie is like. That is why I didn’t upload them here. This movie is not a porn. It does however contain strong sex scenes at the beginning involving Jo Dong Hyuk, who plays a sex addict. Other than that there is occasional partial nudity, strong language and some violent images (notably a pretty shocking mutilation scene at the beginning, the product of Hyun Woo’s imagination). It is definitely a dark and disturbing movie.

PLOT (from Wikipedia):

A suicidal, pot-smoking photographer with schizophrenic episodes, a sex addicted plastic surgeon with a bad conscience and a secretive financer with legal trouble. These three childhood friends come together to relate common memories, future ambitions and share their deepest secrets. “Searching for the Elephant” is a raw, innovative film that portrays the decadent lives of the successful metropolitan in a cynical world.

This movie has an interesting atmosphere. The plot moves and keeps you interested with constant twists and turns. But the story seems to be told from the point of view of Hyun Woo (Jang Hyuk) a less than trustworthy character. He claims to be  a “squizofrenic” first and later on “manic depressive”, he is also addicted to drugs and alcohol. The hallucinations are rampant so in the end, even if he is not the obvious narrator, it does feel like he is the one pulling us into his chaotic world. How do we know what is real and what is not?

THE CHARACTERS

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I know this will not surprise anyone but Hyun Woo is one the reasons I keep re-watching this. I felt for this character. He is a mess. A hyper sensitive individual living in this cruel cold world, with low self-esteem and vulnerable. His mind escapes constantly (sometimes with the help of a little friend called marihuana) I am fascinated with how much Jang Hyuk nailed this role and his scenes. One of my favorite scenes is one where he gets high and delivers a speech about korean  society, obsessed with money, soccer and plastic surgery. It was both kind of hilarious and pathetic and it ended up with him hugging his dog, in total despair.

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Hyun Woo has two childhood friends. Min Suk (Jo Dong Hyuk), a plastic surgeon who is married to his sister Soo Yeon (Lee Min Jung), and Jin Hyuk (Lee Sang Woo), a financial specialist, who reunites with his friends after many years. They are well off and successful on the outside but deep down they hide ugly secrets.

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Min Suk is a sex addict (It is ironic and almost endearing to see Hyun Woo scolding him for his lack of self control) and Jin Hyuk will do something that will unfold much of the action, so I’d rather not spoil.

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The three characters are over grown children, immature, self absorbed and vulnerable. I sympathize most with Hyun Woo because he seems to at least care about people other than himself. Jin Hyuk comes second to me, he is elusive and mysterious, and he makes a huge mistake, but I liked his conversations with Hyun Woo. He was a good friend to him. Min Suk annoyed me for the most part.

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The female characters are unfortunately less developed. Soo Yeon is played by Lee Ming Jung. Her character is distant and cold. It is hard for me to feel or understand her, except that she made a good point when she told her brother Hyun Woo that he cares more about his friends, so he practically abandoned her. Her having to fend for herself, is apparently her excuse for being selfish.

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The mysterious psychiatrist is played by Hwang Woo Seul Hye. This actress has a peculiar vibe. I have also seen her on Speedy Scandal and she also gave me this impression. In this case she was very well casted because the mysterious Dr is supposed to be “strange”.

A delightfully bizarre love story develops between the Dr and Hyun Woo. There is a scene where  Hyun Woo cries devastated after his beloved makes an “out of this world” confession. The dialogue contrasted with the odd soundtrack made me laugh hysterically (I told you I am mad).

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THEIR CUTE LOVE SCENES

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The cinematography of this movie was beautiful. Defintely on the artsy side, maybe not for everyone but I really enjoyed the aesthetics of it.

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And I definitely dig watching Jang Hyuk calling my name desperately

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It has an open ending, and that is a good reason why people say “What the hell did I just watch?” so if you absolutely can’t stand open endings, this one might annoy you.

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Searching for the elephant also known as Penthouse elephant was written and directed by Jeong Seung-Ku (who co-produced The Chaser)

While researching this movie I found out the upsetting information, that actress Jang Ja-Yeon who played Min Suk lover, took her own life before the movie was released.

The movie is available on Youtube at the moment. Click HERE to watch it

That version has better quality but it does not include my favorite scene (Hyun Woo’s speech and dog hug) Fortunately someone else uploaded it HERE

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25 responses to “Searching for the elephant aka What the hell did I just watch?

  1. IS Jin Hyuk real?
    I thought this when he met the police and ask about jin hyuk…
    There’s the part of me that think he’s just a part of his imaginary..
    because he don’t want his bff screw up his dongsaeng..
    I don’t know its so confusing…

    I lost my mind thanks for this beautiful movie

  2. I watched this movie because I currently have the Jang Hyuk fever. The guy never seizes to amaze me…who else can better portray a manic depressive / schizophrenic guy than him? His eyes splurt emotions that seem eerie and even scary if encountered in real life.

    I love the film’s cinematography. Hyun Woo’s delusions were so interesting to watch, that I think they are the culprits for majority’s “what on earth did I just watch” reaction. I personally felt they are essential to the movie, though. It teaches us that no matter how crazy things may seem to be, the world we live in is full of even more lunatic people capable of putting themselves in illogical situations that they sometimes couldn’t get out of.

    I was wondering why on earth the movie had Searching for the elephant as their working title (it even has worse titles in other streaming sites – “Penthouse Playboys” ! Believe it or not). But I think searching for the elephant meant finding one’s self. They are all lost souls. Hyun Woo, who has been dumped by her girlfriend, doesn’t feel like living anymore that he has tried time and again to kill himelf and always failed. What fascinates me is the contrast between the lack of love for himself, and the concern he has for others. Minsuk, although married to Hyun Woo’s beautiful sister, is a nymphomaniac who doesn’t seem to satisfy his lust, practically screwing anything that moves. I interpret his sleeping around as his way of convincing himself that he’s not less of a man just because he is sterile. Jinhyuk, the calmest of the three, went abroad to find himself by making a lot of money which he believed would make him and his true love (Soo Yeon) happy. For me, although he died, he is the only one who was able to find the “elephant” in his life. The ending leaves us with Hyun Woo, who found refuge and compassion in the persona of another mental patient, and Minsuk, who decided to start again with his wife, who is pregnant with Jinhyuk’s baby. They may very well be on the way to finding the “elephant” in their lives.

    Call me crazy for liking the movie, but I believe twists like this give the film its spice.

  3. the first two times i watched it i gave up half way. the ratings and reviews for this movie was not that great but i decided to give it a try again simply bcos as a growing fan of Jang Hyuk, i wanted to understand how he had matured as an actor in this movie. you are right, you need to be in the mood and also there is something cool abt it. not your atypical Korean movie line and something die hard K drama and movie fans may not bite for it.

  4. bueno… lo de en busca del elefante, creo que la metafora es clara, ya que él andaba perdido de la vida de todo, no entendia que hacia ni para donde iba, buscar el elefante le daria camino y haria que encontrara aquello que habia perdido o que simplemente “no encontraba” es muy claro eso si….. parce ser que hyun woo tenia un trastorn severo depresivo que le desarrollo esquizofrenia de alguna manera, solo que asi como él nosotros tampoco podiamos distinguir del todo que era real y que no, que horror de enfermedad.. me recuerda a beautiful mind…. al parecer, hyun woo se dió asi como en beautiful mind, de su esquizofrenia de alguna manera, al ver el video que vió al final en el proyector, totiado de la risa pudo entender que le pasaba, de alguna manera muy mordisqueada logra uno entender que como que él se fue de viaje mucho tiempo, porque al volver tenia el cabello largo, parece que su mente se clarificó, y logró superar el trauma… o parte de él….. ya que retiró todas las fotografias de la pared…. pero parece ser que esas fotos son evidencia de lo que es real y que no lo es…… por lo menos en cuanto a la gente que conocia….. el caso al retirarlas de la pared da o eso entendi; como un capitulo cerrado de parte de su obsesion y trauma…… por so se le ve mas tranquilo…. no tengo claro si el niño con el pez en el parque era también parte de su esquizofrenia (porque al parecer él tenía esquizofrenia) y como en beautiful mind, él se da cuenta de ello o por lo menos parte de esto….. si hyun woo tenia esquizofrenia es algo que el directot deja a la imaginación, aunque evidentemente es más un sí que un no…. pero hasta que grado de esquizofrenia podia tener el?… esa es la pregunta… porque nos deja con la duda si los 2 amigos de su infancia el inversor o el medico eran producto de la esquizofrenia o solo uno…. o seguramente tanto el medico como hyun woo eran esquizofrenicos y veian al mismo fantasma de su otro amigo muerto….. ese es un misterio.. porque si los dos amigos eran producto de la esquizofrenia, eso significaria que la hermana de hyun woo tambien era irreal y él no teniá hermana…… el hecho es que jin hyuk si era parte de la imaginación, era alguien que no existia proque si la policia no tenia registros de su existencia…… eso es diciente, él era el personaje ficticio de la esquizofrenia…. pero entons que pasa proque no encaja la hermana de hyun woo, ya que ella enamorada de ji hyuk, y el hecho que el medico terminara por deshacerse del cadaver de jin hyuk……. o los tres son parte de la esquizofrenia de hyun woo.. o tanto el medico como hyun woo eran esquizofrenicos y veian a jin hyuk, al igual que la hermana .. seguramente ella era parte de la imaginación de ellos dos…. porque lo digo… simple solo el medico daba evidencia de su existencia en toda la pelicula.. aparte de hyun woo… como? solo ellos dos reconocieron que tenian un problema siquiatrico, que debia ser tratado, y solo ellos dos intentaron conectarse con alguien mas que ellos mismos, creo que la pelicula nos da pistas de que es real y que no.. al parecer el medico y hyun woo eran reales, pero la hermana y jin hyuk no lo eran….. estuve esperando ver cual era el problema psiqiatrico de jin hyuk, pero nunca se manifesto…. aparte de haber quedado en quiebra y comunicarse con un susodicho en ingles.. ya es suficiente diciente que podria ser irreal… la hermana siempre ausente que solo veia a jin hyuk. creo que ellos dos son parte de la imaginación de hyun woo … pero no estoy completamente segura con jin hyuk, algo me dice que era real y que tambien tenia esquizofrenia… pero tambien cabe que no, que al igual que los otros dos era parte de la esquizofrenia de hyun woo…. el hechoq ue alla llegado un tercero a matar pro error a hyun woo, por la mujer que se suicido, eso no creo que sea parte de la imaginación de hyun woo… mas bien de la de jin hyuk.. que lo hizo aparecer como el que mataria al amante de su esposa ya que ahi hyun woo fue salvado por jin hyuk y en consecuencia lo mataron…. todo accidental… porque? el que queria matar al que se llevo el carro de la suicidada aunque hyun woo era inocente, el hecho que apareciera para matar solo al que tenia el auto ya decia, eso parece que la del suicidio y el tipo que la queria vengar eran parte de la imaginacion de el medico… pero al tener los dos el trastorno jajaja compartian visiones o algo asi.. digamos que es como mi interpretacion… claro eso puede ser erroneo y todos hacer parte solo de la imaginacion de hyun woo… el cuento es que al final supongo que él se dio cuenta de algo, de su propia mente que lo engañaba, que se sintiera en paz. es proque encontro de nuevo el rumbo encontro el elefante y ya no estaba hyun woo mas perdido.-…. se dio cuenta que la dr jang… tambien tenia un trastorno mental, pero fue feliz de que ella volviera a encontrarla pese a eso…. que viera a su amigo muerto manejando otro auto y encontrarselo en el camino.. interpreto yo que al fin puede dejar eso atras, y que puede continuar, que el elefante logro encontrarlo y ya no seguia mas perdido, y seguiria.. supongo que asi es como interpreto la pelicula… un tanto rara,….. tocara verla de nuevo a ver si logro corroborar mi tesis o simplemente descartarla jajajajajajajajaja

  5. Very enlighening conversation about Searching for the Elephant. Saw it a looong time ago when I first caught the Jang Hyuk Fever. Though a bit confused, I distinctly remember at the end thinking that the one who was “supposed” to be “crazy” was the least crazy of all the characters.

  6. Pingback: Searching for the Elephant through the eyes of a schizophrenic – Korean Movie Review | kdramadreamer

  7. I’m going to use some of your gifs again if that’s okay.

  8. i saw its pics in google on past summer and i feld that i get become a deviant!after of see them i said:THAT PICS, What the hell did I just watch?LOL,so i did not see it never!realy Jang Hyuk squanders his try and Talent!is not it?

  9. Heh I haven’t seen this film but it reminds me of The Fountain, that film with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz that everyone I know who’s seen thinks it’s wackadoo-doo but I LOVE, even if I don’t quite get all of it!!

    • You made me google. The Fountain sounds much much more complex and cray cray than our Searching for the Elephant here hehe. I read that it had mixed reviews but it is from the director of Requiem for a Dream which I find amazing. I read the reviews and even the bad ones make me curious and if you LOVED it I think I should definitely give it a try, even if I don’t get it at all haha.

      • I never saw Requiem!! I’ve always wanted to watch that one but never managed to get my hands on it. Hah yes the Fountain is a huge trip and I did wonder what the hell Aronofsky was smoking when he came up with that, but I see it as an epic love story that spans time and space. And those two are really good actors and they can sell me anything, even the cray cray! I really swooned for this one.

  10. I will join you in crazy land. 🙂 I watched this once and was very much, “what did I just watch?!? Did I…? Did I enjoy that?” So, of course, I watched it again. 😉 And I did enjoy it. So… okay, I’ll admit, I’ve seen it three times now and… yeah, I kind of love it.

    I feel like the “elephant” of the title is a symbol of home and love and completeness. The meaning of life, really — it’s purpose. And all the characters are lost and searching for that elephant, and looking in all the wrong places (some more wrong than others). We follow Hyun Woo’s search the most closely and I think, in the end, he does find his elephant. It’s crazy and nothing like what society says the elephant should be but… he and his friends followed society’s rules and it turned into a hell of a mess.

    So… yeah. I liked it. But I can totally understand the bwaa? that goes along with this movie. 😉

    • Betsy HP I think I was still searching for…the meaning of this movie lol! Woahhhhh what you just said makes so much sense! I’ve watched and rewatched and I’ve experience something similar, finally having to admit that I like this movie even if I didn’t quite understand all of it. But I never really connected the elephant to the meaning of life! and it is perrrrfecttt! Ok! I think I’m going to have to watch it again buahahah

      • Hee! Well, my third watch I talked my husband into watching with me. And then when it was over and he was looking at me all, “what did I just watch?!?” — we talked about it. Probably for longer than he would have otherwise. (But I can be tenacious. 😉 )

    • I was just thinking that now the idea of them finding the elephant and still feeling lost and scared makes perfect sense too. If we see it as the concepts of happiness, love, completeness are huge, elusive and somehow scary, even when we think we found them sometimes we don’t know how to deal with them, etc

      • Ooh, yeah, that makes sense. There was definitely a feeling that you had to almost be crazy to get there. Like the doctor lady who, oddly, seemed one of the most well adjusted people in the movie. From a certain point of view, anyway.

        • That Dr was wise 😋 something else I find ironic is how calm Jin Hyuk acted, he had words of wisdom for Hyun Woo, he sounded confident and reassuring but then his life was such a mess. I find that very sad, and also realistic. Jin Hyuk is still, after many rewatches a bit of a mistery to me

      • I think Jin-hyuk found his happiness (his elephant) with the sister. If I recall correctly, he was from a poor (or poorer, at least) family. And he obviously scrambled after wealth with his financial work. Which kind of succeeded but then blew up on him. But he finally found love — so I feel like that’s where his calmness came from. He had a sense of what was important to him.

        (Whether it would have lasted, though… We’ll never know. But within the movie’s timeframe of his life, he’d figured things out for himself.)

        I think the biggest mess was Min-suk because I’m not sure he even realized he was lost and searching. Whereas Hyun-woo at least knew.

        • Stupid Min Suk didn’t even remember the visit to the Zoo, he didn’t remember the elephant! idiot! he was just so selfish gahhh. And I think you are right Jin Hyuk was the one who reminded Hyun Woo about the elephant and was the one who kept talking about searching for whatever makes you happy, etc it seemed he had already been there, done that (the struggle, the search) and already knew what that happiness was or could be, interesting…

    • Didn’t I just say that I don’t know what the hell I watched? lol Ok, but this one might be simple. The elephant might be a metaphor for different things that escape my knowledge but, in the movie this is what we know. The three friends went to the Zoo when they were children and someone’s mother (I don’t remember who) told them that if they got lost, don’t panic and look for the elephants. They surely got lost but when they got to the area of the elephants they realized it was huge, so they were still lost and panicked. Well, at least Hyun Woo was, and he was telling the story. So supposedly this searching for the elephant means, the three friends are still lost and looking for something.

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