Yeong-hie SeoSeong-won JiMin-ho HwangJi-Eun Lee
Medium: film
Year: 2010
Director: Chul-soo Jang
Writer: Kwang-young Choi
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea
Actor: Yeong-hie Seo, Seong-won Ji, Min-ho Hwang, Min Je, Ji-Eun Lee, Jeong-hak Park
Format: 115 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 6 December 2012
It's a South Korean film that I've seen compared to Deliverance.
Seong-won Ji plays a bitch. She's not evil, but she has the humanity of a barracuda and she'll happily take an extreme position on incomplete or faulty evidence. She does this twice, not to mention the scene where she simply winds up her window in traffic rather than try to help a woman who's about to get attacked by a gang of men. That's an unpleasant episode. Anyway, an incident at work gets her approximately fired, which shouldn't surprise anyone. She thus takes a break and leaves Seoul, returning to the island where she grew up. This is miles away from anywhere, only accessible by a little put-put-puttering boat and it's populated by:
(a) Yeong-hie Seo, her childhood friend. She's lovely. Just as we saw in Seoul, the film knows how to give us really likeable people to counterbalance the hard-faced Seong-won Ji. Yeong-hie Seo has a husband, a daughter and a smile that just won't quit. They were childhood friends and it seems clear that Yeong-hie has feelings for Seong-won. Pay no attention to the husband and daughter. Being a lesbian isn't a recognised lifestyle choice on this island, thanks to...
(b) Baek Su-ryun, a hard-faced old battleaxe who makes Seong-won look cuddly. She'd kick aside your corpse to get at a dropped penny, while she'd be the world's biggest chauvinist if it weren't for the island's men. Example dialogue: "a woman's most happy with a dick in her mouth."
(c) The men, who unbelievably manage to be even worse than auntie. She only talks trash. She never rapes, beats or kills anyone, although in fairness she's happy to help them cover it up afterwards.
This movie starts out horrible, then keeps getting nastier. I'd been expecting the worst, having seen South Korean films before, but even so I underestimated them. I was worried that the story had shot its bolt by getting too evil too quickly, leaving them nowhere to go, but of course I was wrong. There's some truly appalling stuff here, made all the stronger by the fact that this is a proper film with characterisation and control of tone. It's not just a sleazefest. It's the bits between the gore that make it powerful. Knife-licking, yeow. I was squirming. Let's just say that a sledgehammer coming down into a seated man's crotch isn't even in the top ten most horrible things in this film.
Nevertheless I like the character touches. The menfolk will get annoyed about bad language and people who don't respect their elders, for instance. A prostitute will apologise.
This is an outstanding film, although it's hardly light viewing. Don't expect a happy ending, obviously. It's shocking, appalling and sad, although there's a crumb of solace in the fact that the events we saw appeared to have had an effect. The film premiered as an official selection of International Critics' Week at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and it rightly won a ton of film festival awards. Yeong-hie Seo took home no less than seven Best Actress prizes for her work, which you can't say she didn't earn. Powerful.
"She's ten, but she doesn't go to school. I'd like to send her, but Man-jong and his aunt don't think girls need schooling."