Despite the rather extreme title, which points both at a melodrama and an exploitation film, "Spinning the Tales of Cruelty Towards Women" is actually a quite significant film for the Korean movie industry, since it was the first one to screen in the "Un Certain Regard" section of the Cannes Film Festival. Furthermore, the depiction of the hardships women had to face during the Joseon Dynasty spawned much controversy, by many who believed that the events depicted in the film were hyperbolic.
The story revolves around a very beautiful woman, Gil-rye, whose life has been a constant struggle against the rules forced upon women at the time. The film begins with an attempted rape, before it goes back in time, to show Herstory from the beginning, when she was given to a wealthy family to take part in a spirit wedding, actually marrying a man deceased. If that was not enough, she actually has to behave like a married a woman, following a extreme number of rules, mostly imposed by her mother-in law. The girl does her best, but she falls victim to her brother-in-law, Yoon-bo, who eventually sneaks into her apartments and rapes, even making a tendency out of the fact. When her father-in law discovers the fact, he asks to her to leave, which was actually considered an act of mercy, since she was considered the one at fault for not keeping her chastity.
Gil-rye wonders the countryside until she meets Yoon-bo again, with the two of them eventually falling in love. After some more tragic events, the couple seems to settle happily in the man's family house, but their happiness does not last for long.
Lee Doo-yong directs a harsh melodrama, where the tragedies befalling the protagonist never actually cease, from the beginning to the inevitably sorrowful finale. Through this tactic, Lee makes a rather pointy accusation against the way women were treated during the 15th century, and particularly against the rules imposed by a male-dominated society. Furthermore, and probably the reason the film spawned so much controversy Along with the falling in love with your rapist concept), his accusations seem to reach the times the movie was shot (the 80's), stressing the fact that Korean remained (and still does actually) male-dominated.
Evidently, his story may go a bit too far regarding the amount of tragedies a person can experience in one lifetime, but this hyperbole is what makes his remark much more intense.
On a secondary level, and as the couple faces more tragedies, Lee also comments that the rules of the time (although dictated by men) had a toll on them also occasionally, since the rules regarding family and succession seem to be above both man and woman.
In this concept, he does not pull his punches very much, with Lee Seong-chun's camera shooting quite closely a number of rapes taking place in the beginning, and a number of violent scenes between men later, which set that harsh tone of the film, despite some comic relief moments here and there.
The cinematography in general is quite accomplished, with Lee highlighting both the circumstances of the time and a number of beautiful settings. Lee Kyeong-ja's editing is a bit confusing at times, with the back and forths and some abrupt cuts, but does not fault the movie so much, in the end. Jeong Yun-ju's traditional (of the time?) music fits the general aesthetics of the film nicely, with the same hyperbole in tones and volume that characterize the whole production.
Won Mi-kyung gives a wonderful performance as Gil-rye, highlighting her helplessness and constant despair throughout the movie, with the last scene being the highlight of her effort. Won is also a very beautiful woman, and Lee Doo-yong stressed the fact as much as he could at the time. Shin Il-ryong is also quite good as Yoon-bo, a man willing to face any hardships for the women he loves, but is also swept by the times.
"Spinning the Tales of Cruelty Towards Women" is a film that highlights the circumstances of the time with a melodramatic hyperbole that makes its point more obvious and impactful, and that is where its value lies.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "Spinning the Tales of Cruelty Towards Women" with Full Movie"
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