A Tale of Legendary Libido sets itself apart immediately from other Korean sex comedies with its classical roots. Writer-director Sin Han-Sol's irreverent comedy is actually a "re-imagining" of a famous tale recorded in the 19th century. In the original story, main character Byun Gang-Soe is the ultimate playa of his time, bedding woman left and right with his sexual prowess. Sin's film gives a silly spin on the character's origin, crediting Byun's power to a magical potion made from the nose of a totem pole soaked in aged wine. Apparently, the nose once unleashed a horde of nearly naked men that would have sex with anything that moves, and the logic is that the wine would lend similar power to whoever drinks it.
Of all people, Byun (played by Bong Tae-Gyu) needs the potion the most. Despite his impressive fighting skills, he is ridiculed throughout the female-dominated town after his manhood is rendered useless in an accident. One day, he rescues a trapped old man and his disciple in the forest, and the old man repays his kindness by pointing him towards the potion. Obviously, the magic potion comes with a few conditions; the old man warns Byun that not following its rules (no intercourse for 14 days, take only one sip, etc.) will lead to disaster for the village. No prize for guessing what happens.
With characters like a physician that urines with the power of a fire hose and women who wear far too revealing clothes for the period, Sin is obviously not aiming for any type of historical authenticity. The lead-up to Byun "unleashing" his power is also appropriately silly with plenty of crude jokes, plus the sight of men performing synchronized swimming to retrieve a lost shoe.
However, Sin doesn't seem to quite know where to go with his one-joke premise. Sin develops his story at a surprisingly slow pace, spending nearly half the 110-minute running time setting up Byun's power. Sin continues to bring the plot to irreverent places, including a major competition to test Byun's newfound power against a foreigner. But Sin traps himself with his first-act foreshadowing, taking the story into melodramatic territory with a predictably serious third act. The writer-director eventually returns to comedy, giving the final conflict an absurd solution, but he fails in capturing the right comic tone, causing the film to barely drag to its long-awaited finish.
Part of the blame goes to leading man Bong, who lacks the believable charisma to make his change into the village sex god convincing. Bong does get part of his character right, as he wanders around the village in a constant sad sack state. However, his expression remains the same even after his major change, never showing any emotion towards the attention he receives or the things happening around him. This can partly be attributed to Sin's direction and script, which moves into its fun-deadening "more power comes with more responsibility" theme almost immediately. On the other hand, the writer/director gives the supporting players more to do. Oh Dal-Soo provides plenty of charm as Byun's hunk brother, and Kim Sin-Ah turns in an eye-catching debut with a sexy performance as the object of the two brothers' affection.
At times, Sin manages to squeeze some laughs from his absurd premise. Placing a crude sex comedy in a period setting is not easy, and A Tale of Legendary Libido can't simply be dismissed as a total failure because of the challenge it tackles. It earns points for finding creative ways to use an enlarged manhood (It disrupts waterfalls!), and the musical influence throughout provides a fascinatingly strange vibe that should at least garner some confused laughs. Even though the sex is more played for laughs than for titillation, it also delivers much of the requisite raunchiness to satisfy sex comedy fans. Despite the pseudo-serious tone of the third act, A Tale of Legendary Libido does not ask to be taken very seriously. How else can you explain the symphony of urine performing to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance"? If you find that idea funny, this may be the Korean comedy you've been waiting for
Cast: Bong Tae-Gyu, Kim Sin-Ah, Oh Dal-Soo, Yoon Yeo-Jung, Song Jae-Ho, Kim Ki-Hyun, Seo Yung, Ko Seo-Hee, Kim Young-Ae
The Skinny: A sex comedy with a charm-free lead performance and an uneven tone, A Tale of Legendary Libido may still be raunchy enough to please some sex comedy fans.