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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Silenced"

2012/12/29 | Permalink

A teacher, Kang In-ho, moves to a new school. His past is slightly checkered, but for the most part he's just a normal person like you or me, and just wants to get along with the rest of the staff at his new school. Their methods of discipline seem harsh. He's uncomfortable, but doesn't say anything. Then he starts hearing screams in the empty schoolgrounds. He backs off when people start pressuring him to stop asking questions. Then Kang In-Ho finds out the truth behind what's going on.

The secret is, indeed, a pretty horrible one. But it's not some well-worn movie cliche about paranormal activity, insane cults or eccentric sadists. No, the monsters in "Silenced" aren't much different from Kang In-Ho. They're just normal people who work at and manage a school for the deaf. They're actually very kind people, what for dedicating their lives to helping the less fortunate, being pillars in the community, and having strong connections to the local church. So naturally, everyone is in shock at the horrible allegations that come forward. And they strive ardently to defend the poor beleaguered teachers of the school.

You might be wondering why they do this, given that I haven't explained what, specifically the crime or evidence behind it is. But that's the funny thing. No one in the movie really seems to care about any of that anyway. There's this constant overarching assumption that because the teachers are good people, by definition they must be incapable of evil acts. By extension, the "victims" are the real criminals because they want to defame good people for no apparent reason.

That's the scariest part of "Silenced". Which is no mean feat, since this is a movie that shows us fairly graphic and horrific scenes of abuse that will probably make you want to turn away from the screen. No, the worst part of all is realizing that this is not just a true story that happened in Gwangju, or even South Korea. This happens everywhere. Look at the Sandusky case in the United States. For several months all anyone in the Penn State community could do was reflexively defend all the authorities who covered up and aided sexual abuse. It was with that same horrific logic. We are good people. He is one of us. Therefore he cannot be a bad person.

Now, of course, the crimes perpetrated by the leadership at Penn State are public knowledge. But "Silenced" doesn't give us that easy way out. We not only get to see the abuse, we see the emotional turmoil and suffering the victims go through as their names are publically sullied and their stories constantly disbelieved all while their tormentors receive a constant stream of moral support. "Silenced" recognizes that it's not the ending that really matters. It's the set of circumstances that allowed the teachers at this school to become so arrogant and so inhuman as to commit this sort of abuse without ever once realizing what awful, monstrous people they were.

All of this works itself into a universal message of the way we need to hold ourselves (and others) accountable to more than social convention. As a result, "Silenced" is a fantastic, emotionally powerful film that should be necessary viewing for people of any culture. When you're finished, ask yourself something. If you were in Kang In-ho's position, would you do the same thing? Be honest. In the moment, you may buckle. You may think about your career, your organization's reputation, or whether these were "really" crimes. Then watch "Silenced". And as the final credits roll, resolve in that moment that no matter what the circumstances, you will not let that kind of evil stand.

"Silenced" is directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk and features Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi.

Review by William Schwartz. William Schwartz is an American currently living in Gyeongju, South Korea, where he studies Korean and themes in Korean media.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray from YESASIA and Amazon

DVD 2-disc (Normal Edition) (En Sub) Blu-ray (First Press Limited Edition) (En Sub) DVD US (En Sub)

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