Netflix review: Empowering 'Samjin Company English Class' is Baeksang best film 2021

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 15 2021 08:14 AM

Netflix review: Empowering 'Samjin Company English Class' is Baeksang best film 2021 1
Go Ah-sung, Esom and Park Hye-su in a scene from 'Samjin Company English Class'

Secretary Lee Ja-young (Go Ah-sung), advertising clerk Jung Yoo-na (Esom) and accounting clerk Shim Bo-ram (Park Hye-su) were three friends who had been working at the same lowly jobs for 8 years at the Samjin Electronics Company. In 1995, they joined several other female employees of Samjin to enroll in in-house English-language classes in the hope of getting a promotion if they can score at least 600 points at the TOEIC test, as they were promised. 

One day while on a visit to a remote Samjin factory, Ja-young noticed that there was contaminated water being dumped from their facility into the nearby lake, killing the fish there and causing diseases among the villagers. Together with Yoo-na and Bo-ram, Ja-young was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, especially after she discovered that the company had not actually been honest in their environmental as well as financial reports. 

The three lead actresses were very likable in their respective roles, each lady with her own funny quirks and useful talents. Ja-young may look dimwitted and happy-go-lucky, but she was dedicated and persistent to a fault. Yoo-na can come up with bright ideas on the fly, but was frequently frustrated when credit was claimed by someone else. Bo-ram may be a mousy introvert, but this former Math Olympics champion had a prodigious ability for complex mathematics that was nothing short of phenomenal. 

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Most of the bosses of three main characters in the company hierarchy were male, each with their own brand of chauvinism. Choi Dong-soo (Cho Hyun-chul) was Ja-young's young boss who was all too willing to follow his bosses. Bong Hyun-chul (Kim Jong-soo) was Bo-ram's senior boss who just had to do something more before his retirement. Oh Tae-young (Baek Hyun-jin) earned his chairmanship by nepotism but he'd rather be playing golf. Billy Park (David Lee McInnis) was Samjin's charismatic, photogenic, English-speaking CEO. 

The serious topic of whistle-blowing against irresponsible (or even criminal) company practices is certainly not lightweight stuff. However, in the inimitable K-cinema tradition of storytelling, writer-director Lee Jong-pil was able to give his story a heartwarming yet lightly comic spin that made this feministically empowering movie quite entertaining without being too preachy. It was effective in delivering the important social messages and aspirational lessons Lee wanted to impart to his audience. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."