South Korean documentary film “Please Make Me Look Pretty” looks into the plain but lovely artistry of one young disabled woman who simply loves to draw. While her numerous drawings are its main attraction, the documentary also presents a frank and intimate human portrayal to be appreciated, and we come to see her life and personality more besides her disability.
When the documentary shows us Jeong Eun-hye for the first time, we can clearly recognize her developmental disorder right from her distinctive appearance. Due to Down’s syndrome, she looks like a big chubby child with the apparent signs of relatively low intelligence, and she certainly depends a lot on the care and attention from her mother, who often has to handle Eun-hye tactfully whenever they begin another day of their life.
Because there was no one to give her a job after graduating from her special school, Eun-hye had no choice but to work as a janitor at a local kindergarten, but then she came onto something to interest her a lot. After watching those kids freely drawing pictures, she decided to try to draw for herself, and that was the beginning of her artistic passion.
While subsequently working at a local rehabilitation center for the disabled, Eun-hye started to draw caricatures of people at a local market which is held in her hometown once a month. While constantly accompanied with her mother or her carer, she quickly drew the caricatures for many customers willing to pay her a bit, and, what do you know, her caricatures became pretty popular within a short period.
Although she needed some more practice at first, it did not take much time for Eun-hye to improve and then hone her skills. As she kept drawing, her caricatures came to have more artistic qualities, and we see how she can draw one caricature within around 20 minutes. While she often becomes exhausted as she and her mother receive more and more requests, she keeps going nonetheless, and that is not changed at all regardless of whether it is too hot or cold outside. She remains mostly cheerful, and everyone in the market is happy to see her whenever she walks here and there in the market during her occasional free time.
When she came to more than 1,000 caricatures with her mother’s full support, Eun-hye had a little exhibition of her works. Although she and her mother clash with each other a bit on her attire for the opening event, they eventually come to the exhibition under good mood, and the opening event turns out to be fairly successful as many people come to see her works.
Meanwhile, as shown from the early part of the documentary, Eun-hye also applied for the workshop for disabled artists in Seoul. Fortunately for her, she got accepted into the workshop without much difficulty, and we subsequently see her cheerfully joining her fellow disabled artists. At one point, the camera shows her assigned to a little private place of her own for artistic activities, and she is certainly delighted about that.
After she advanced more with her artistic talent, Eun-hye came to have a joint exhibition along with several other disabled artists at an abandoned factory. At first, the factory merely looks dirty and shabby with all those broken machines and some other stuffs strewn around here and there, but then we see how its interior and exterior are changed step by step. In case one wall of the factory building, the big photographs of Eun-hye and one of her fellow disabled artists are pasted on it, and we can sense how special this exhibition is for them and several other disabled artists.
When the exhibition is opened to its visitors, the documentary looks around their various artworks for a while, and this reflective moment is further enhanced by the open performance of a local dance troupe. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how their dance is connected with those exhibited artworks, but it surely enhances the mood inside the factory, which looks and feels quite different from how it did at first.
One of the most touching moments in the documentary comes from when the camera shows how Eun-hye subsequently became much more active about her artistry after the exhibition. She eventually quit her job at that rehabilitation center for pursuing her artistic passion more, and then she begins to work at a little local art academy for young kids. We see her sincerely guiding one boy on how to draw his favorite superheroes, and I must say that I could not help but smile a bit as watching the final result.
On the whole, “Please Make Me Look Pretty”, directed by Seo Dong-il, is a plain but sincere presentation of one interesting artist to observe, and I admire how it handles its human subject with care and respect without any distracting condescension. As watching Eun-hye’s irrepressible artistic spirit and the wholehearted support and encouragement behind it, I came to reflect more on the importance of the social inclusion of the disabled, and the documentary is certainly all the more relevant considering how harsh and ignorant the South Korean society has been to the disabled for many years. In short, this is another good South Korean documentary of this year, and I assure you that you will want to get a caricature of yours from Eun-hye.