[HanCinema's Film Review] "Bound by Chastity Rule" + Full Movie
By Panos Kotzathanasis | Published on
The concept of tradition and how it shaped people's lives, particularly in the pre-modern era, has always been rather popular in cinema, especially in the melodramas of the 50s and the 60s. Shin Sang-ok, as one of the pioneers of the genre in Korea, could not miss on such a chance, presenting a genuine film of the category, by juxtaposing the concept with the change financial progress brought in the country.
Mrs. Han is a very young widow, who was married off to an adolescent noble, despite his will essentially, who died though, rather young. According to tradition, Han has to remain chastite for the rest of her life, with her elderly mother-in-law, widow Song, having endured the same fate for decades, even having been honored with the Arch of Chastity. Temptation, however, does appear in the face of Seong-chil, a worker who is not only handsome, strong and virtuous, but also saves the family when a drought threatens the whole area, even despite the rage of the rest of the local farmers. The two of them soon fall in love, to the enervation of her brother-in-law, Sam-hyeon, who has previously proclaimed her love for her, with him being the one that eventually gives away that Han is pregnant. Expectedly, when widow Song learns of the fact all hell breaks loose, with the tragedies for everyone involved following one another.
Shin Sang-ok directs a film that begins as a romantic story, but eventually is transformed to a hard-core melodrama, with Sam-hyeon's betrayal functioning as the dichotomy. His comments on the blights of ridiculous customs, like the one of chastity of widows is rather pointed, and begins even before, when a rather young lord is forced, against his non-stop cries, to spend the night with Han. That both Seong-chil and Han, and a bit later, their son, cannot understand the logic of customs like this in an era where technology has brough financial progress and modernity, presents the comment rather eloquently, as much as the fact that despite their will, they cannot escape the bonds of patriarchy. This last aspect is personified in widow Song, whose strict, violent, and eventually bitter and vengeful attitude towards her daughter-in-law seems to symbolize all the blights of patriarchy. Han Eun-jin gives an astonishing performance in the role, as the villain of the story, who has also suffered from the same fate, however.
At the same time, though, and in a more subtle and cunning fashion, Shin Sang-ok also has a number of tragedies appear as soon as the two lovers start exhibiting affection for one another. Starting with the draught, and continuing to the fate of the father-in-law, of Sam-hyeon, and eventually of the whole family's presented as, essentially, punishments for the two breaking the rules of patriarchy. This aspect actually carries on almost to the end of the movie, when the shattered characters finally find a kind of solace through the concept of motherhood, which Shin presents as a power that conquers all, even the viciousness of the mother-in-law. In that fashion, Shin tones down the previous element, thus "winking" to the female audience, while allowing, as usually in his works, for the film to end on a somewhat positive and optimistic note.
The frequent duo of Shin Young-kyun as Seong-chil and Choi Eun-hee as Mrs. Han are as good as always, with the combination of the strapping young lad and the shy beauty highlighting their prowess and their chemistry, in one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie.
Jeong Hae-jun's cinematography is quite accomplished, with the shots in the fields, particularly of the dry land, the rituals, and the few action scenes being the apogee of his efforts. Kim Young-hee-II's editing is also excellent, with the rather fast pace suiting the story and overall aesthetics quite nicely, and in economic fashion, despite the slightly episodic nature of the movie.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.