The real events that took place in the Gwangju Inhwa school for the hearing impaired caused public outcry in South Korea. The sexual abuse of many deaf/mute students was just so horrific that such lenient court rulings seemed an injustice by itself. This outcry has sparked the cases to be reopened, for the investigations to be resumed. It also led to a legislative reform, where a bill called Dogani Bill was passed in the National assembly in 2011. Director Hwang Dong-Hyuk attempts to bring this story to the spotlight with the movie “Silenced” (aka. “The Crucible”, aka. Hangul) in 2011.
Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo) is a man with a troubled past. He had recently lost his wife and has a young kid to whom his mother cares for. Trying to keep things together, he accepts an assignment as an art teacher at a school for the hearing-impaired in the fictional city of Mujin. Excited with this new job, he notices that some of the students are aloof and distant, and he has observed several acts of violent behavior by a faculty member towards a teenager. In-ho wants to keep his new job and he tries to ignore what he is slowly being led to believe, that something is amiss. But soon, two of the students begin to open up, and Yuri (Jung In-Seo) and Yeon-Doo (Kim Hyun-Soo) claim to have been molested by high officials of the school. In-ho is faced with the horrific fact that some of these students (besides Yuri and Yeon-Doo) were indeed being sexually abused and he seeks the aid of a human rights advocate named Seo Yoo-jin (Jung Yoo-Mi) to try to sort things out. This leads up to court proceedings that prove to be a farce and justice may not be served at all.
Films with this premise are often very difficult to watch. They aren’t meant to be entertaining in a way mainstream movies are, they are meant to generate a genuine feeling of unease so that it could connect with its viewers the true details of a story. Such stories should be told, just so people can have an idea how things work, how the law itself can be manipulated and that human greed can stand in the way of justice. Films such as “Silenced” is a very real story of good and evil; how good men must stand in the way of evil even against all odds, since to even consider the alternative would be by itself a surrender to such wickedness.
Being a film based on real events, I am certain that some things were edited out for pacing purposes. The script and the direction goes into three acts, it focuses on In-ho, the development of his relationship with the abused and his friendship to Yoo-jin, and the third act where the actual court proceedings become portrayed and just what happens next. It was a good move for the direction to attempt to flesh out the major characters as it also defines the way the ‘system’ in Mujin worked. It is all about the good guys trying to find justice for the helpless, and to define the stakes, the screenplay pushes the limits in revealing the details of the abuse themselves. Much of the sexual abuse happen off-camera, but director Hwang reveals just enough to make the viewer feel the emotions that had damaged the children. I do have to admit that I was surprised by the lengths the film went into the details of the violence suffered by teenage Min-su (Baek Seung-hwan) and his young brother. I am just guessing, but perhaps Korean culture is more protective of female abuse than those suffered by males.
The court proceedings play out pretty much the way we usually expect as details of the assault become revealed, and just how corruption, greed, governmental flaws and personal interests can alter the course of a trial. Young actress Kim Hyun-Soo takes the spotlight in the second half, as she portrays her character as someone who stood tall in the face of petty steps to try and undermine their testimonies. Sure, some of the sequences were no doubt enhanced for dramatic effect, but the script certainly was able to bring the emotional aspects of its premise into the fold. I felt genuine anger and I found myself uneasy the more I got into the film. It was a tale that was truly hard to believe, and the fact that they were all real just made the film that much stronger.
The performances were all excellent. Gong Yoo was a very sympathetic character who represented the film’s moral stances but none of which would have carried its narrative weight if not for the performances of Kim Hyun-Soo, Baek Seung-hwan and Jung In-seo. The children took much of the film’s burden as they took the spotlight. Jang Gwang plays twin brothers who both are positions of power in the school, and despite their limited screen time, their stone-faced portrayals was scary that they saw themselves as good citizens who serve the church of God. Jung Yoo-mi was convincing in her role, and was well-written into the script, she played the part that gave the main characters their strength in the dramatic scenes.
“Silenced” is a difficult film to watch. It isn’t entertaining in the way most films are, but its story does indeed need to be told. It is unbelievable that such injustices can happen because of due process, while it presents that ugly truth, it also seeks to present a bright side to it all. Good men are around to stand for something when faced with evil. After all, the greatest evil is when good men do nothing in the face of such immoral evil. This film gets a high recommendation from me despite its disturbing nature. This tale needed to be told.
Highly Recommended! [4 Out of 5 Stars]
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