Three films zero in on the limitations of legal system
Forty-four high school boys were convicted of being involved in serial gang rapes of a middle school girl over the course of a year. The accused filmed the acts and threatened to distribute copies of the clip if the girl talked.
The case wound up with only 10 boys sent to a juvenile corrections facility. Years later, the others are said to have led “normal lives,” attending college or serving in the military. The young victim dropped out of high school after the mother of one of the convicted attackers came to the school and demanded that she file a petition to mitigate her son’s sentence.
As unrealistic as all this may sound, it happened to a 15-year-old girl in 2004 in Miryang, South Gyeongsang, and will be the basis of the upcoming film “Don’t Cry Mommy.”
Kim Yong-han’s debut feature already has garnered a lot of attention from the public and media, with many wondering whether it will wield the extraordinary real-world impact of last year’s “Silenced” - also known as “The Crucible.”
As an adaptation of Gong Ji-young’s novel, “Silenced” is based on a rape case in which four teachers and an administrator at Gwangju Inhwa School for the hearing impaired were convicted of sexually abusing at least eight students, some orphaned or mentally challenged, from 2000 to 2004.
What outraged the public in addition to the sordid details of the crimes themselves, was the way it was handled by the Korean justice system. Only two of the four accused served any jail time and one of them was freed when an appeals court suspended his sentence.
“Silenced” set off such strong public resentment that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology shut down the school and lawmakers pushed for tougher punishments after the courtroom drama attracted more than five million viewers.
“Don’t Cry Mommy” also confronts what the movie describes as an unbalanced justice system in Korea often criticized for an entrenched, insular culture that panders to the social elite.
The film, scheduled for release Nov. 22, revolves around You-lim (You Sun) and her only daughter, Eun-ah (Nam Bo-ra).
Upon arriving at a new school in the wake of her parents’ divorce, Eun-ah has feelings for classmate Jo-han (Dong-ho). But her crush turns into a gang rape nightmare after Jo-han and his friends attack her and threaten to upload footage of the rape online to keep her quiet.
Unable to cope with her emotional distress, Eun-ah commits suicide. Because they are minors, her attackers receive only the limited punishment allowed by law. The story unfolds as You-lim sets out to avenge her daughter’s rape and death.
The movie’s director was outspoken about his intention to deliver a social message.
“Sexual abuse is like devastating a human’s soul. But most people don’t know [the pain of rape victims],” said Kim. “On the surface, ‘Don’t Cry Mommy’ is about a mother who gets back at the rapists who sexually assaulted her daughter. But in a deeper way, I tried to describe the tragic course of the lives of victims and their families as vividly as possible because I wanted to raise awareness of sex crimes.”
Members of the cast also empathized with the pain of victims of sexual assault.
“I couldn’t hold back tears thinking how devastated victims’ lives might have been,” said Nam Bo-ra, with tears rolling down on her cheeks during a press conference at the 17th Busan International Film Festival.
“I can’t understand why victims should suffer more pain than criminals,” said Yoo Oh-seong, who played Eun-ah’s father.
Kang Hyo-jin’s “Dirty Blood,” which opened yesterday, explores the effects of sexual abuse in a different light.
The movie tells the story of In-seon (Yoon Joo), who lives with her terminally ill mother (Seol Ji-yoon). When she prepares to leave for Spain as a foreign exchange student, her mother reveals that her father, who In-seon thought was dead, is alive and that she was born after he raped her. In-seon falls into despair and poses as a relative of one of her father’s previous wives. She starts living with her father and seeks revenge.
“I wondered if a child born of rape can have self-dignity. I also wanted to show the destructive aftermath of sexual abuse,” said director Kang Hyo-jin. “Sexual abuse is still widely considered as an unfortunate personal incident, and the social safety net for the sexually abused is not well established.”
Public discontent over justice system’s treatment of sex criminals is not confined to lenient penalties, rather it encompasses a long-running debate over the statute of limitations. There has been a slew of high-profile cases involving serial murders and rapes that have been closed due to the statute.
Jung Byung-gil’s “Confession of Murder” taps into a growing anger over the statute of limitations by featuring a serial murderer who cashes in on his crimes by publishing a book on the murders he committed. The movie hits theaters next Thursday.
On the day the 15-year statute of limitations expires on a serial murder case involving 10 women, a family member of one of the victims jumps to death in front of the detective (Jeong Jae-young) in charge of the case.
Two years later, Lee Du-seok (Park Si-hoo) publishes a book titled “I Am the Murderer,” claiming responsibility for the killings that took place 17 years ago. The controversial book rises to the top of best-seller lists, and Lee becomes famous.
The detective attempts to surmount legal obstacles to bring the murderer/author to justice.
Critic Jeon Chan-il sees the series of films as mirroring public frustration with the legal system.
“The movies fulfill people’s wishes by allowing victims to take on the perpetrators, and it has become a trend for movies to contain a social message,” said Jeon.
“I think the trend is something to encourage. Movies with a message are more meaningful than those that only entertain.”
By Park Eun-jee [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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