Just earlier this week, Hollywood recognized the cinematic excellence of Korean films by giving "Parasite" the Oscar for the Best Picture, aside from being the Best International Feature Film. Its creator Bong Joon-ho was given Oscars for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Locally, we have long admired Korean cinema and the wonderfully original stories they tell. Several Korean horror and comedy titles have been shown in local cinemas.
"Kim Ji-Young: Born 1982" is one of the rare dramas to join the list.
The main protagonist Kim Ji-young (Jung Yu-mi) was the wife of Jung Dae-hyun (Gong Yoo) and the mother of a cute toddler daughter. She had to give up her office job to be a full-time mother. She struggled to be a good daughter-in-law to her demanding mother-in-law, who seemed to keep finding fault in her performance as wife and mother. Wanting to escape from her mounting episodes of depression, she wanted to go work for her former lady boss Team Leader Kim (Park Sung-Yeon) who had established her own business. Will Ji-young ever be allowed to do so?
This heavy drama about the socio-cultural expectations for a woman was told from the Asian perspective, and will definitely resonate with and likely trigger women from all over Asia, and perhaps even in the West. This film showed that even in this modern day, a married woman was expected first and foremost to serve her husband and take care of her children. Her own personal development and professional fulfillment will have to be shelved or even denied. Filial respect is primary and unconditional, no questions asked.
This film went into a lot of difficulties women in general faced when growing up -- how daughters were less favored than sons, how female employees do not get promoted as much nor earn as much as their male colleagues, how they are to be blamed when they are sexually harassed, how they could be the target of perverts who set up cameras in public toilets, and various other day to day issues men usually take for granted. This was one two-hour wake-up call to men on the misogynistic challenges that women, especially their wives, face on a daily basis.
The pace of the storytelling was very slow, which is appropriate as these oppressive traditions were insidiously destroying women from the inside going out. The performance of Jung Yu-mi as the titular heroine was a very quiet understated one, yet it was so powerful and disturbing, especially for women in similar situations to identify with. Superstar Gong Yoo has a supportive role here as her concerned husband, from whom men could learn some lessons of empathy and true partnership.
This film, the feature film debut of female director Kim Do-yeong based on the best-selling 2016 novel by female author Cho Nam-joo, is very provocative stuff. Couple who go watch this together will definitely go out discussing or even arguing about these pressing matters of sexual politics. This is a most challenging sort of film for Valentine's Day.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."