November 15, 2015

Madonna: Tragedy, Thy Name Is Woman

It's not as if male directors haven't depicted an emotionally damaged sex worker (Kim Ki-duk with Samaritan Girl), a helpless woman being organ-harvested (Kim Hong-seon with Traffickers) or a mercilessly brutal rape survivor (Jang Cheol-soo with Bedevilled) in their movies but it took a female director like Shin Su-won to combine all three into a single pic then layer on even more gynocentric topics like the cruelty of sexual politics in the office place, the pathos of high heels, the despair that leads to maternal infanticide, the shame accompanying overeating as a coping mechanism, the futility of retail therapy, the ubiquity of internalized misogyny, even the veneration/stigma of virginity, all in a single film. And if you're ready to dismiss Madonna as an "issue" movie then I'd counter with "what's the issue here?" Frankly, there's too many for Madonna to qualify as topical. Shin movie is more like a compendium of concerns as it outlines a very nightmarish — and very upsetting — reality.

Shin ingeniously strings all her ideas together as a whodunit, although this time the "it" isn't a murder. It's pregnancy. Anti-heroine Hae-rim (Seo Yeong-hie) has recently scored a lucrative job as an orderly at a ridiculously high-end hospital where her primary patient is a nearly vegetative geriatric who's being kept alive because of the strictures of his will. When a comatose young, pregnant woman (Kwon So-hyeon) is brought in as a potential heart donor for her charge, Hae-rim is tasked with finding out the father of the fetus. This medical staff may be amoral but consent forms still must be signed! The nuisance of tracking down the absent father leads Hae-rim to uncover a tragic story that puts her own sorry life in perspective. The vacant eyed Hae-rim is definitely one of the walking wounded and somehow seeing someone who's been completely beaten down in life has inspired her to fight back against the powers that be one last time. Self-redemption never gets old, does it?

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