The promotional material for "An Old Lady" has given the movie a very accusatory air, and in all fairness that's not incorrect. "An Old Lady" is, after all, the story of Hye-jeong (played by Ye Soo-jung), an elderly woman who is raped during a medical exam mostly because she couldn't fight back. The movie takes place in 2012- a weirdly specific detail considering it was produced relatively recently. There are technical legal reasons for this particular plot point. Without getting into spoilers, let's just say that a similar case probably wouldn't play out the same in the present day.
More than being about sexual assault and elder abuse as hot button issues, "An Old Lady" is a character study. Most obviously with Hye-jeong- a tired old woman who has enough self respect to report the crime committed against her but not enough energy to deal with exhaustion induced by the attempts of her rapist Joong-ho (played by Kim Joon-kyung) to mount an outrageously cynical defense. The cops, interestingly enough, are about as sympathetic as can reasonably be expected. It's elsewhere that Hye-jeong runs into particularly bad trouble.
I'm thinking of one scene in particular, where a quiet observing character just starts screaming out of nowhere, seemingly in response to Hye-jeong producing a useful piece of identifying information. Why did this person get so angry? Privacy rules? Personal reputation? A desire to exert power? Who knows? Hye-jeong certainly doesn't. She's just an old woman, and people feel entitled to belittle and disrespect her at the slightest provocation. Hye-jeong's used to this, being on the outs with her family for some unknown reason.
Her live in man friend Dong-in (played by Ki Joo-bong) has had a luckier run of life. And consequently, Dong-in takes more offense to the continuing indignities of the case even though he's not actually the victim. The sexual assault slowly decouples Hye-jeong and Dong-in mainly because they have radically different coping mechanisms for cruelty. Where Hye-jeong expresses quiet self-doubt and tries to lay low, the more confrontational Dong-in starts picking fights, believing he is entitled to justice.
There's a lot of ambiguity when it comes to Dong-in's strong feelings. On the one end it seems like he should just be passively supporting Hye-jeong's lead. But on the other end, Hye-jeong isn't really leading anywhere. She slowly gets more disgusted, cynical, and mean. This culminates in a brutal climax wherein a borderline spectral Hye-jeong makes promises as to the neverending cyclical nature of mortal cruelty. Hye-jeong herself never really believed in decency or redemption.
This makes her much scarier than Dong-in or even Joong-ho. A caregiver herself, Hye-jeong is well aware of the inevitability of human mortality, which gives a dark aura of irrefutability to her stern statements. It's creepy and unsettling how throughout the movie the law seems to work better for Joong-ho than it does for Hye-jeong. The irony is, by the end we see that it's protecting Joong-ho more from the wrath of Hye-jeong than it is from the consequences of his own actions.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "An Old Lady""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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