South Korean independent film “An Old Lady” calmly observes and then gradually empathizes with its old heroine’s infuriating situation. While we do not know that much about her even in the end, we are also reminded of how she is unfairly denied of justice she deserves, and it is moving to see her finally expressing herself without any ounce of shame at the end of the story.
After the disturbing opening scene which is thankfully presented on the screen with thoughtful restraint, we get to know the situation surrounding Hyo-jeong (Yo Soo-jung), a 69-year-old woman who has lived with Dong-in (Ki Joo-bong), an old retired poet who has run a small local bookstore. She was recently hospitalized for physical therapy, and she mostly looks fine as being with Dong-in again, but then she reveals to him later that there was some serious trouble during her hospitalization period.
Hyo-jeong and Dong-in go to a local police station for reporting what happened to her, but she cannot help but feel confused and nervous when she attempts to write a report to be submitted to the police. As clearly conveyed to us during the opening scene, she was raped by a young male nursing assistant while they happened to be alone during a night physical therapy session, and she has remained quite traumatized while still trying to process her dreadful memories of that incident.
Anyway, Hyo-jeong manages to write the report in the end, and she and Dong-in subsequently meet a cop assigned to the case, but the cop is not particularly helpful while being insensitive to her and Dong-in at times. Although Hyo-jeong has been more or less than a longtime companion to Dong-in after his wife died, Dong-in is regarded simply as a close friend of hers, so there is nothing much he is allowed to do except standing by her and then notified of whatever will be done for her.
The man who raped Hyo-jeong is eventually taken to the local police station, but, of course, he denies everything while insisting that he and she had a consensual sexual intercourse, and there is not anything to disprove his claim. Although Hyo-jeong managed to keep her hospital clothes tainted with his semen, that is unfortunately not enough to get him indicted for sex crime, and the cop becomes skeptical due to the glaring discrepancies in her testament. For example, she testified that a nurse friend of hers recommended her to go to that hospital in question, but, for some unknown reason, the cop cannot locate that nurse, and then he comes to wonder whether Hyo-jeong incorrectly remembers what happened due to dementia, though she is apparently quite healthy and even goes to a local swimming pool everyday.
As watching his dear companion’s silent suffering, Dong-in becomes more frustrated and exasperated, so he decides to take some action after coming to learn a bit about the man who raped her, but he is reminded of how helpless he and Hyo-jeong are in their ongoing circumstance – especially when he confronts that man in private. He even considers doing something quite drastic, but then he accidentally gets himself injured instead, and Hyo-jeong eventually leaves him as he is being taken care of by his lawyer son now.
During its second act, the screenplay by director/writer Lim Seon-ae stumbles more than once, and that is where I could sense the movie trying a little too hard for drawing from us more sympathy toward Hyo-jeong as well as Dong-in. While a subplot between Dong-in and his son feels rather contrived, a part involved with Hyo-jeong’s new job remains underdeveloped, and the movie only comes to feel like spinning its wheels at times.
Nevertheless, the movie slowly regains its narrative momentum during the third act as firmly held together by Ye Soo-jung, a 65-year-old veteran actress who has appeared in various South Korean films including “Train to Busan” (2016) and “HerStory’ (2017). Even when she does not say anything, we can clearly sense the thoughts and feelings churning behind her character’s phlegmatic attitude, and that is why several key scenes in the film where her character becomes relatively more expressive are effective with some sharp points for us. Regardless of how she looks and wears, Hyo-jeong is a damaged person who definitely deserves more consideration and understanding for her trauma and pain, and Ye presents her character’s mental suffering with considerable sensitivity and dignity.
In case of the other main cast members in the film, most of them dutifully hold each own small spot around Ye. Although I think the film pays a little too much attention to his character, Ki Joo-bong is fine as one of a few characters in the story who genuinely care about Hyo-jeong’s plight, and he and Ye are effortless during the cordial moments between their characters while also implying a long history between them. Kim Joong-ki is solid as a cop who comes to care about his case a bit more than expected, and Kim Joon-kyung is as impertinent as required by his detestable role.
On the whole, “An Old Lady” is imperfect for several reasons including its overwrought finale, but it is still worthwhile to watch thanks to Ye’s splendid performance, and its strong moments certainly resonate a lot with the ongoing #MeToo era. Things are still uncertain for Hyo-jeong even in the end, but she is not silent anymore – and she will continue to speak out on her own terms.