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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Drama Stage - The Woman Who Makes the Last Meal"


Soo-ah (played by Cho Yeo-jeong) is a senior prison chef. What this means is, that when condemned inmates request a last meal, she is the one who has to provide it. It's an aggressively pointless job that has been made even less purposeful by the political circumstances of the nineties, which have made the practical abolition of the death penalty virtually inevitable. But then, Soo-ah has never really understood the death penalty in the first place- as is noted here by the case of Min-joong (played by Ha Joon).

There's really good social commentary here, less about the death penalty itself, and more about how useless broad assumptions are when it comes to individual people. Everyone knows from the red tags condemned inmates are forced to wear that they are monstrous criminals of some sort. The word psychopath is frequently used by the prison guards to distinguish death row inmates from other kinds.

But when we look at the actual behavior of the condemned inmates, they really aren't that different than anyone else. We're just encouraged to think of them that way because of the red tags. Consider Min-joong, with his creepy habit of taciturnity. It especially doesn't help how Min-joong tends to disappear and reappear out of nowhere. Yet Min-joong consistently comes off more as weird than dangerous, especially when contrasted with the more traditionally aggressive behavior of the normal prisoners.

All the prisoners, both the condemned men and the regulars, come off as normal human beings with quirks rather than the monsters they are described as in dialog. The lack of clarity as to what crimes they've committed or whether they're actually guilty of them especially heightens this contrast. Are we dealing with serial killers here, or just political scapegoats? The difference becomes less meaningful the more we see of "Drama Stage - The Woman Who Makes the Last Meal" because the stories always end the same way- with a brutal, senseless death by hanging that takes just a little more out of Soo-ah's psyche.

Like the opening title says, "Drama Stage - The Woman Who Makes the Last Meal" is less about any quintessentially South Korean experience when it comes to the death penalty and deals more with the ethical vagaries in general. People prefer to believe that their actions, especially radical ones like ending another human's life, have some sort of meaning. Even if Soo-ah finds that meaning at the end, we're still left wondering whether there was ever any real purpose to it.

Review by William Schwartz

"Drama Stage - The Woman Who Makes the Last Meal" is directed by Hwang Joon-hyeok, written by Park Joo-yun, and features Cho Yeo-jeong and Ha Joon.

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