South Korean film “Ten Months” gives us a painfully funny and honest tale of one certain aspect of womanhood in the South Korea society. Duly sliding up and down along with its unlucky heroine whose life is turned upside down by the pregnancy both unexpected and unwanted, the movie ably alternates between humor and despair, and we come to empathize more with its heroine while amused or horrified by many difficult moments during her rocky emotional journey along the story.
At the beginning, the movie shows us how things have been fairly good in the daily life a young female software programmer named Mi-rae (Choi Sung-eun). Although she often has to work a lot along with several fellow programmers, she does not mind at all as hoping for a big break for her and her colleagues, and she does not lose confidence at all when her parents chide her for still getting nowhere in addition to not being married yet.
Anyway, Mi-rae has been living with a lad named Yoon-ho (Seo Young-joo), and they have getting along pretty well with each other although Yoon-ho is not particularly promising compared to her. He has been planning to develop and then merchandise a little accessory associated with smartphone, but what he makes does not seem to be that useful or convenient, and it merely looks rather amusing in my trivial opinion.
And then there comes a surprising discovery to Mi-rae on one day. Having felt not so well during last several weeks, she goes to a local drugstore for getting some medicine for that, but the pharmacist tells her that her symptoms are not so different from the ones observed from pregnant women, and Mi-rea is flabbergasted to hear that. As far as she can remember, she has never had sex during last several months, but then she finds herself not so sure about what exactly happened between her and her boyfriend during a certain drinking night, and, quite more worried than before, she naturally checks her current physical condition via pregnancy test kits. What do you know, she is indeed pregnant at present, and we get one of the funniest moments in the movie when she promptly reveals this utterly undeniable fact to her best friend.
While never losing its sense of humor, the movie lets us observe and understand more of the grim aspects of Mi-rae’s increasingly difficult situation. She has been pregnant for more than 2 months, so she must quickly decide on whether she will have an abortion right now, but there is not much help or support for her from the beginning. Her kind doctor flatly emphasizes that abortion is not legally allowed in her case, so she later goes to some clinic where she may have an abortion, but she will have to pay a lot for that – and she is definitely going to pay more if she hesitates more while her fetus keeps growing second by second.
As Mi-rae becomes conflicted more and more, her life becomes messier to her frustration. When she reveals her pregnancy to Yoon-ho, he is naturally caught off guard by that, but he tries to do the right thing from his viewpoint. Coming to believe that this can be a crucial turning point in their relationship, he later visits her parents for a certain purpose, and the misunderstanding between him and Mi-rae leads to another sharp comic moment in the film.
Considering that how willing Yoon-ho is to stand by Mi-rae, he may actually provide some stability to her current status, but, unfortunately, things get only worse for Mi-rae as days and weeks go by. When there finally comes a point where she cannot possibly hide her pregnancy from her boss, she decides to confide that to her boss, but her boss, who is incidentally male, promptly lets her go without any consideration even though she has been a crucial part of his company for years, and that reminds me again of how many female workers in South Korea lose their jobs for the same reason every year. Because of this, many of women in South Korea are not particularly willing to marry, let alone have a baby, and it is no wonder that the latest total birth rate in Seoul turns out to be no more than 0.58.
In the meantime, Yoon-ho turns out to be much less reliable than expected, and that pushes Mi-rae into more frustration and despair. Due to his big financial trouble, he has no choice but to depend a lot on his parents, who fully expect Mi-rae to become a dutiful housewife living in their country house after giving birth to her baby. Understandably horrified by this gloomy prospect waiting to engulf her sooner or later, Mi-rae comes to have more doubt on her ongoing pregnancy, and that consequently leads to more conflict between her and Yoon-ho, who has also been very miserable in his burdensome circumstance between her and his parents.
Around that narrative point, the movie is often difficult to watch as continuing to make us cringe and wince a lot, but it steadily holds our attention up to the eventual arriving point thanks to the skillful direction of director/writer Namkoong Sun, who made several short films before making a feature film debut here in this movie. Even during its gloomiest moment, the movie somehow generates humor as before while never losing its empathy toward its heroine at all, and its soundtrack, which ranges from a bunch of old-fashioned Korean songs to several familiar pieces of classic music, functions well as an effective comic/dramatic counterpoint throughout the story.
As the emotional center of the story, Choi Sung-eun, who previously appeared in “Start-Up” (2019), deftly sways back and forth between comedy and drama along with the movie, and she is also supported well by several good performers including Seo Young-joo, Yoo I-deun, Kwon Ah-reum, and Bek Hyun-jin, who is amusing as an unflappable doctor who turns out to be more compassionate than expected.
In conclusion, “Ten Months” is quite a memorable female film thanks to its sharp wit and considerable honesty, and it is certainly one of more impressive South Korean films of this year. Although this is only her first feature film, Namkoong did a very good job of presenting her story and characters with considerable care and passion, and I think it will be interesting to watch whatever will come next from this apparently talented filmmaker to watch.