Tuesday, August 7, 2012

SILENCED - REVIEW

도가니 (Silenced)
September 22, 2011 (South Korea)
125 min
South Korea (Korean)

Written and Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk (Based on the novel by Cong Jee-young)



"Silenced" is a harrowing drama depicting the covered-up child molestations that actually occurred within a special education elementary in South Korea. Phenomenal performances amidst the carefully constructed crises push this film to great worth.

The inlet city of Mujin (which translates to "city of fog") shadows a despicable secret. Mujin is the stand-in for Gwangju, the actual metropolis where the events of "Silenced" took place. Gang In-ho is a newcomer here, he is an art teacher from Seoul about to start his new job at a school for the hearing-impaired nestled in the hills above the city. With a daughter of his own back home in the care of his mother, he teaches children so he can take care of his own child. At the end of In-ho's first day of teaching, just as he is heading home for the evening, he hears the frantic screams of a child. Finding the girl's bathroom door that separates him from the crier he asks if she is okay. He is approached by a janitor. "Kids here make strange noises for fun. Since they can't hear, they do it more." That settles the matter for In-ho who goes home for the night.

It does not take long for curious In-ho to discover the physical and sexual abuse going on within the school walls. How cruel the treatment and how deep the corruption he (and naturally we) could not have foreseen. As he struggles with how to act in the situation, I struggled with our protagonist's hesitation to take action. "Silenced" is not only a heart-wrenching viewing experience, it can be down right infuriating. South Korea's customs and laws are not America's and In-ho is neither you nor I.

Along with Seo Yu-jin, a human right's activist in Mujin, In-ho works to bring a stop and justice to the school's predators. Videotaping various children's accounts of what was done to them starts the fire that brings the case to court. It is during these taped sessions that we witness the deed's described. It may seem odd to say (but then again, not really) that I feel "Silenced" channels a lot of contemporary Korean horror. The films by Park Chan-wook have gone to some very bizarre and sadistic places, but due to the content on display this film it is far more troubling to watch the children's traumatic experiences. Director of photography Kim Ji-yong shot these scenes along the victim's perspectives and they are paralyzing. The school becomes a house of torture where scars beyond healing are dealt to the young and helpless.

Hwang Dong-hyuk's vision for "Silenced" is more sincere than it is realistic. Even in all their loathsomeness the perpetrators are characterized too melodramatically evil to jive with the rest of the cast. One character's storyline is tied up with a payoff we are better left without. And while the tense court scenes are showy, I count these among the most memorable in film with fine company like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Untouchables."

Not everyone will manage this heavy picture. You'll cry with these characters or perhaps be far too angry to. "Silenced" has yet to receive the Western audience that it absolutely deserves. The 21st Century of cinema has a spotlight on certain young, daring, and talented South Korean filmmakers and their projects. Count this as one of them. 


★★★★½

CONTENT: strong sexual content, nudity, disturbing sequences and images, brutal violence, and some language (Note: There are several disturbing scenes of child molestation in this film. While most of these acts are somewhat visually obscured in it is still very clear what is occurring.)

Updated 1/24/13

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