'Tears': Message Movie or Sexploitation?

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'Tears': Message Movie or Sexploitation?

Imagine teenagers whose days are filled with sex and violence. They don't hesitate to work as barmaids and prostitutes in order to earn money. These teenagers, in the eyes of Korean society, are juvenile delinquents on the wrong track.

But before putting your two cents in and stigmatizing them as unruly sinners who need guidance and authority, try to figure out what brought them to their state. What if they were beaten black and blue at home and molested by relatives? Would you still throw stones at them and cry out, "It's all your fault"? The recently released Korean language film "Tears," directed by Im Sang-soo, poses such a question in dealing with the lives of these so-called juvenile delinquents.

"Why do some teenagers have no other choice but to behave the way they do? We wanted to make that an issue," said actress Cho Eun-ji, who plays Ran, a 17-year-old barmaid in the film. "Tears" follows the lives of four teenagers - Ran, Sari, Chang and Han - as they run away from abusive homes and struggle to survive on their own. The teenagers daringly venture into the forbidden - they smoke, drink, prostitute themselves and share their beds with each other - and they find little hope in their bleak lives.

One day, they decide that a trip to the sea will give them the optimistic uplift they are looking for desperately. But when they finally get there, they discover a polluted seaside covered with filth and muck. Their last comfort destroyed, the friends give in to their futile future.

With commendable performances by a cast of new faces, "Tears" succeeds in depicting the barren reality of Korea's marginalized teens. "The hopeless lives of the teenagers mirror the adults' own wrongdoings," remarked Im Sang-soo, the director. Bong Tae-kyu, the actor who plays Chang, said, "I hope teenagers and their parents see this movie together, for it could be a good chance for them to be able to understand each other." Kim Hun-gyu, a 20-year-old moviegoer, agreed. "It is not only enjoyable but also significant for many Korean teenagers to see this film, which frankly describes what is really going on."

But some critics are skeptical. "Tears" has been denounced for its scenes of nudity and violence, and the film's avowed purpose to reach out to all adolescents was overshadowed by the rating it received, which prohibits those under 18 years of age from seeing it. A female moviegoer in her 40s complained, "I felt the movie went too far. It especially didn't have to show openly naked teenagers having sex." There was also some criticism about the genre itself. "I am fed up with movies that deal with a teenager's misdeeds and am skeptical about whether this movie can be the true answer for Korean teenagers," said Kim Gi-hong, another moviegoer.

It is indeed necessary to bring attention to the lives of neglected adolescents in our society. The motivation behind "Tears," therefore, is worthy of praise. But the film falls short in dealing honestly with the aftermath of one's actions. Although it shows how the teenagers were led astray, the movie did not offer a solution to get them back on the right track. Without a conscientious lesson, the intent gets lost and films such as "Tears" can be misconstrued as merely promoting the teenagers' reckless lives, rather than helping them out of them.

by Chun Su-jin

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