I often braced myself while watching South Korean film “Gyeong-ah’s Daughter”, a somber but undeniably powerful drama about one certain serious social gender issue in our digital era. As observing how its two different main characters respectively struggle with the sudden devastating damages inflicted upon their life, the movie is hard and difficult to watch at times, but we keep watching it nonetheless because it handles its story and characters with considerable care and restraint at least, and it surely earns its little melodramatic tears around the end of the story.
At first, we are introduced to a plain middle-aged widow named Gyeong-ah (Kim Jung-young) and her adult daughter Yeon-soo (Ha Yoon-kyung), and we observe their respective daily lives. Gyeong-ah works as a caregiver for some senile old man in her neighborhood located in Inchon, and Yeon-soo lives in Seoul while working as a schoolteacher, but they do not correspond that much with each other on the whole. Although Gyeong-ah calls her daughter from time to time, Yeon-soo does not want to talk much about how her life has been going, and a certain little problem in her private life is surely the last thing to tell her busybody mother.
Unfortunately, that problem turns out to be more serious than she thought at first. Yeon-soo recently broke up with some lad, and she has no regret over this, but, alas, this dude still thinks that he can get her back. When he suddenly appears right behind her, she is naturally nervous, and their following conversation only reminds her more of why she decided to leave him. Quite concerned about whatever he might do to her, she subsequently decides to go to her mother’s residence instead of her residence, but she still does not tell anything to her mother while hoping that he will simply give up in the end.
However, the situation only becomes quite worse for Yeon-soo not long after that. Out of spite, her ex-boyfriend sends their sex video file to a number of persons including Yeon-soo’s best female friend, who instantly notifies to Yeon-soo about that. Needless to say, this sex video file will soon be spread around here and there on the Internet, and Yeon-soo’s life begins to crumble as she becomes more scared and devastated day by day. She eventually comes to quit her job, and then she retreats from everyone around her while trying to find any possible way to recover from this devastating blow to her life.
Gyeong-ah could help her daughter, but she is so shocked to see that sex video file that she only comes to hurt her daughter’s feelings more. Nonetheless, she tries to find her daughter when Yeon-soo is gone from her without any word, and that makes her more regrettable about her rather cruel words hurled at Yeon-soo at that time.
As alternating between the bumpy emotional struggles of its two main characters, the movie gives us a series of painful moments without resorting to cheap sentimentality. While she manages to find a way to start her life again in addition to doing some damage control, Yeon-soo cannot help but reminded of the persistence presence of that sex video file somewhere on the Internet, and she feels more regret and guilt because the video was actually shot under her thoughtless consent. She is willing to take her case to the court, but then she comes to hesitate when her sympathetic lawyer tells her that she can agree on the settlement outside the court for avoiding more troubles to come.
Meanwhile, Gyeong-ah comes to reflect on her life more as trying to cope with her complicated feelings on her daughter’s ongoing plight. As she admits later in the story, she was not that happy due to her lousy husband throughout their married life, and she comes to see how Yeon-soo was important to her during that difficult time as she stood by her mother as a caring daughter. Coming to realize that she should have stood by Yeon-soo from the very beginning, Gyeong-ah begins to try as much as she can for Yeon-soo, and her small but significant efforts eventually make her connect more with Yeon-soo.
The last act accordingly becomes rather melodramatic, but the movie steadily maintains its calm attitude as before. I particularly appreciate small but precious moments of solidarity from several female supporting characters around Gyeong-ah and Yeon-soo. While Yeon-soo’s best friend and one of Yeon-soo’s colleagues are quite willing to provide help and support, two female lawyer characters in the story show more understanding and compassion than expected, and Gyeong-ah’s old friend also turns out to be much caring than we thought at first. In case of a subplot involved with Yeon-soo and one certain young girl in the story, it becomes unexpectedly poignant when Yeon-soo comes to connect more with this young girl, and we sense a sort of healing process inside Yeon-soo as she opens herself more to this young girl.
Under the thoughtful direction of director/writer Kim Jung-eun, who made a feature film debut here after making two short films, the two leading actresses quietly hold our attention with their respective solid performances. While Kim Jung-young ably holds the ground, Ha Yoon-kyung deftly handles her character’s difficult emotional journey along the story, and they are also supported well by several good cast members including Lee Chae-kyung and Park Hye-jin.
Overall, “Gyeong-ah’s Daughter” is another impressive South Korean female drama film of this year, and it surely reminds me again of why many South Korean female filmmakers like Kim Jung-eun are important for South Korean cinema. Considering the blatant social backlash against feminism in the South Korean society at present, we really need to support and listen to their stories more than before, and I sincerely hope that the movie will be regarded as the shining starting point for Kim’s filmmaking career.
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