Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Spirits’ Homecoming: Memorializing Korean Comfort Women
anyone seriously still deny the war crimes committed by the Imperial Japanese military
against women of many nationalities forced into sexual slavery during World War
II? Apparently so. In fact, they retained one of the nation’s largest law
firms, Mayer Brown LLP, to remove a modest monument to the brutalized and
murdered “Comfort Women” from a Glendale city park, until the massively bad press forced them drop out of the suit. Clearly, Mayer Brown’s shadowy clients
would prefer to obscure the past, which makes a new, internationally
crowd-funded Korean Comfort Woman drama timely and necessary. Heartbreak is
inevitable in writer-producer-director Cho Jung-rae’s Spirits’ Homecoming (trailer here), which opens today
in New York.
Jung-min was a bit of a bully growing up in the Korean countryside, but she will
become as much of a protector as she can to the other abducted girls,
particularly the shy Yeong-hee. Like the other enslaved Comfort Women, Jung-min
is constantly raped and beaten by soldiers throughout each day. It is a Hellish
existence, but she might be strong enough to endure.
Yeong-ok survived the torture of that particular comfort station, but she
remains haunted by her memories. Decades later, she lives a quiet life
tailoring ceremonial garments until she meets, Eun-kyeong, the new apprentice
of an old shaman friend. Somehow, Eun-kyeong is especially sensitive to the spirits
from Yoeng-ok’s past, receiving regular visions of the horrors that transpired
in her comfort station.
cross-cuts the two temporal narrative threads, contrasting the wartime atrocities
with contemporary apathy and skepticism. Although the film is not sexually explicit
per se, Cho never waters down the reality of their situation. As a result, Homecoming is often a hard film to
watch, especially because the victims are all so young—fourteen or fifteen
being the norm.
Ha-na and Seo Mi-ji are quite remarkable as the young and painfully vulnerable Jung-min
and Yeong-hee. They are completely convincing in what can only be described as
unimaginable situations. Yet, there is nothing forced or affected about their
performances. Rather, they are distressingly in the moment. While the contemporary
storyline lacks the emotional force and visceral outrage of the wartime
sequences, Son Sook still lends the film some mature grace as the woman now
calling herself Yeong-ok.
Granted, the climatic shamanic ceremony for
which the film is titled is a bit manipulative, but Cho has to give us
something after all we witness. Frankly, it is a surprisingly impressive period
production, considering what a shoestring labor-of-love it was. There was not a
lot of institutional support during Cho’s years of development, but he had the
last laugh when Homecoming took the
top spot at the Korean box office for two weeks in a row. No, it is not an easy
film to watch, but the talent of its young ensemble is considerable.
Recommended for general audiences, Spirits’
Homecoming opens today (3/25) in New York, at the AMC Empire (assuming
Mayer Brown does not try to file a last minute injunction).
Labels: Korean Cinema, Wianbu