Movies draw ire for on-screen violence: Some Korean moviegoers say that depictions of misogyny are far too common

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Movies draw ire for on-screen violence: Some Korean moviegoers say that depictions of misogyny are far too common


From left to right are scenes from “V.I.P.,” “Midnight Runners” and “Real,” three recent movies that have been mired in controversy over the depiction of women. [WARNER BROS. KOREA, LOTTE ENTERTAINMENT, CJ ENTERTAINMENT]

The R-rated crime drama “V.I.P.” successfully swept the local box office in its debut last week, but failed to capture the hearts of moviegoers, especially women.

The star-studded flick, directed by “New World” (2013) director Park Hoon-jung and featuring Jang Dong-gun and Lee Jong-suk, held on to its spot at the top of box office for a week, but fell to fifth on Wednesday.

Many have pointed out the film’s depictions of violence towards women, leading to a heated debate over whether the film reflects the deeply rooted misogyny in Korean culture.

The controversial film, distributed by Warner Bros. Korea, revolves around a North Korean defector Gwang-il (Lee), the son of a key political figure who is prime suspect behind a series of rapes and murders of young women, and is being tracked down by the police, the National Intelligence Service and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency - each with their own agenda.

The movie’s violent scenes have infuriated female moviegoers. The film’s detailed depiction of an assaulted woman painfully begging for life, and the close-up shots of female victims’ naked bodies covered in bruises and blood were criticized by those challenging the film online.

“The movie is unnecessarily cruel and gruesome - the elements of which are applied more powerfully through female characters. Interrogated and dying male characters are depicted without showing them suffering, but the pain the female characters experience from rape to interrogation are minutely depicted,” wrote one reviewer on a portal site Naver.

The review, which has more than 250 likes, describes one scene where the victim, whose blood-covered body is tightly tied around a table, begs for her life to a group of naked men who have just raped her and given her an injection of an unknown substance. The reviewer called the scene “very revolting.”

“Female characters are merely used as devices of sexual violence to show the cruelty of male characters, proving the director’s lack of imagination and how lightly he thinks of the issue,” another reviewer wrote on Naver.

Other viewers brushed off these complaints and argued that bringing up misogyny is “nonsense” and that the complainers are “reacting overly sensitively,” adding that those doing so are from Megalia, an online radical feminist group that has become infamous for the sexism of some of its members.

In response to the controversy, the President of Warner Bros. Korea argued that the movie should be evaluated on its own merits.

“The biggest issue of a film’s production is its diversity. Since it is not [shown on television] but on screen, a movie should be allowed to deliver diverse stories and expressions,” wrote Choi Jae-won on his Facebook last week. “If a certain opinion is enforced or if [a movie] is blindly criticized by people who have not watched it, and affects others who have not yet seen it, I believe [this behavior] is a kind of violence close to fascism.”

Similar to “V.I.P.,” a few movies released in recent months have been met with controversy over their depiction of women.

Action comedy “Midnight Runners,” which depicts two Korean National Police University students who take tracking down criminals into their own hands, encountered backlash for using women as tools to arouse male protagonists’ sense of moral justice.

The R-rated action noir “Real,” revolving around a man afflicted with schizophrenia, was also hit with criticisms for the inclusion of sex and nude scenes of female protagonists that were not necessary to the development of the story.

While some claim including unnecessarily detailed scenes featuring violence reflects the filmmakers’ moral insensitivity, others argue that the audience’s focus on certain issues instead of the essence of the film could be detrimental not only to a Korean movie’s box office performance, but also the local film industry as a whole.

“Though it’s true that ‘V.I.P.’ partially includes anti-feminist scenes, that doesn’t mean it’s an anti-feminist movie,” said movie critic Oh Dong-jin.

“[Criticizing the movie for the inclusion of sexual violence against women is] like not being able to see the forest for the trees. A certain group of people lashing out at a movie and driving it to the corner on social media without factual grounds is actually a form of fascism.”

The unfair treatment of a movie could arouse populism in the film industry, according to Oh. “Lashing out at a film for certain scenes is like requesting populism from producers and directors, who will have to become overly careful [when working on films].”

Movie critic Kang Yoo-jung, however, argued differently.

“In terms of ‘V.I.P.,’ I believe the female characters in the movie were consumed functionally. Just because [the director] needed female victims doesn’t mean he had to strangle them with wires or show the [victims’ abused, naked bodies] in close-up shots - they did not even play a crucial role in delivering the story.

“Instead of judging a movie on the number [of tickets it sells], it’s time to pursue qualitative development, meaning it’s necessary to assess local movies’ degree of violence.”

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