In the Shakespearean tradition, jesters were usually the smart ones. Due to their social position, they could make direct, biting sarcastic commentary without worrying about reprisal since everything they said could be played as a joke. "Fatal" is centered around a heavily distorted version of the same idea. Its jester, a slow-witted man by the name of Sung-gong (played masterfully by Nam Yeon-woo) is normally not intelligent enough to grasp such basic facts as that his so-called friends are vicious social bullies who hold him in thinly veiled contempt. But when his eyes are opened to the sheer horror of the terrible crime they committed ten years ago, Sung-gong lacks the sophistry necessary to rationalize his actions under the cloak of rape culture.
Have you ever wondered what happens to people who commit rape and get away with it? There's a lot of them, so maybe you should take a moment to think it over. These people don't go home, torture puppies and cackle maniacally. They don't cry into their pillows every night because they can't get laid consensually. They don't get caught by unplacatable detectives. No, they just live normal, unremarkable lives. Typically without much respect for women, but hey, join the club. Most men just file that stuff away mentally under the headline of someone else's problem.
If this sounds terrifying, it should be. "Fatal" ingeniously captures this discomforted, tense feeling, and sustains it for feature-length. Sung-Gong, now exposed to a horrific reality he directly witnessed, is unable to forget about the crime. He's unable to cast away his responsibility. Is he a loser? An idiot? Maybe- but why exactly are winners and intelligent people being valued when these qualities are precisely what a successful rapist needs in order to function in day-to-day life? What happened to morality? What happened to empathy? What's the point in objecivity when it can be used to rationalize rape?
"Fatal" takes the cold position of forcing us to watch these excuses and rationalizations unfold, challenging us to come up with a better idea Sung-gong does. This is a feminist movie for men, in that it directly identifies how men make the world a horrible place for women. It thens forces us to acknowledge that when we're the ones causing the problems, we're the ones who need to take a stand and solve them.
This becomes all too clear as we contrast Sung-gong with Jang-mi (heartbreakingly played by Yang Jo-a), who just wants to live like a normal human being. The film's closing shot is a poetic, bittersweet statement on the passivity of her character. It begs the question- why should she be involved with any of this? All Jang-mi ever did was be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She didn't cause the crime, so why is this entire cultural blight filed away under women's problems?
Director Lee Don-ku has made a true masterpiece, a powerful statement on what rape culture is and a call to men everywhere that excuses can not, and should not be tolerated when it comes to the violation of other human beings. "Fatal" is a deeply terrifying movie, even though it lacks any real horror elements, because the audience lies in fear of what Sung-gong will discover as he takes the next step. He may not like what he finds, but redemption is about more than just making yourself feel righteous.
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] "Fatal""
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