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Azooma - Movie Poster
Original Title:

South Korea 2012

Crime, Drama

Lee Ji-seung

Jang Young-nam
Ma Dong-seok
Hwang Tae-gwang
Bae Seong-woo
Lee Jae-hee
Im Ma-noo

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Azooma - Film Screenshot 1

Story: A single mother (Jang Young-nam) one day has to stay a little longer at work than usual because of a meeting and can't fetch her daughter (Lee Jae-hee) from school in time. The little girl walks home on her own and is given a ride by a man (Hwang Tae-gwang) in his car. Back at his home the man rapes the girl and afterwards dumps her on the street. The mother, who is only called "Azooma" by everyone around her, has already tried to file a missing person's report, but the police turned out to be everything but helpful. Now, as she has brought her daughter to a hospital she exerts pressure on detective Ma (Ma Dong-seok) to find the rapist. However, Ma proves to be uncooperative and says that he doesn't have enough evidence for a case. Thus, it's up to "Azooma" to find the culprit. But even when she manages to deliver him to the police, they let him escape because of their incompetence. "Azooma" is desperate since even her ex-husband (Bae Seong-woo), a famous dentist, isn't of much help to her and rather wants to keep the incident a secret since he fears that this might hurt his reputation. It seems as if "Azooma" needs to take law into her own hands if she wants to see justice prevail...

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Review: Some movies are just predestined to receive rave reviews by critics. "Azooma" is such a movie because of its subject. After all, how could you not find anything but praise with all the obvious social criticism that is embedded in this revenge story? Maybe by putting all goodwill aside for a moment and looking at the everything but few missteps of this crime-drama. For instance, there is the extremely minimalistic story, that is artificially magnified by some tricks, and a female protagonist who is simply unnerving at first. That may be intended, yet still doesn't prevent us from needing to roll our eyes because of the azooma. What else are you supposed to do when it comes to an azooma? Her hysterical, helpless nature really drives us up the wall at times, even though it may be in service of the story.

Azooma - Film Screenshot 5

For everyone who doesn't already know: Azooma (or ajumma) is what you call a middle-aged married woman, possibly with children. Actually being a polite expression the word is nowadays used in a pejorative sense most of the time, especially when addressing a young woman with it. The typical picture of an azooma is that of an older woman with permed hair, wide pants and rubber shoes on her feet, nagging all day with a loud voice and making everyone go crazy with her pushy nature. Accordingly, it is significant that the female protagonist is called just like that in the film and that we never really get to know her real name. Of course, an azooma isn't a low-class woman, but society treats her just like that. And that's also where the criticism on patriarchal Korean society is aiming at.

Azooma - Film Screenshot 6

In contrast to other critics I'm not really convinced by the way this criticism on society is presented, though. That the story's heroine isn't taken serious by anyone and finds herself to be part of a system in which women aren't given rights equal to that of men is conveyed in a manner that frustrates and we are supposed to feel that way. Up to this point everything is alright. Unfortunately, the protagonist actually behaves just like an azooma. She screams hysterically when the police have her and the rapist in front of them and then she even starts to throw punches. Granted, the police are depicted as completely incapable of dealing with any situation, but at least in this situation you can't blame them, since even after several times of asking the woman she doesn't talk any sense at all what actually is going on. She really just would have had to throw in a few vague facts...

Azooma - Film Screenshot 7

I'm also not convinced of the way the police are depicted. The excuses made by them why the case isn't treated as one are clumsy and the detectives are too caricatural. The fact that one of the police officers tells his colleague during the filing of a report that he should ask the delivery service what's taking them so long could have served as a humoristic note in other movies, but here it's just a cheap way of proving that no one cares about the needs and pleas of the heroine as she is a second class woman.
Jang Young-Nam ("Ode to My Father", "A Werewolf Boy") can be seen in her first lead role here, although she has already accumulated a lot of experience in supporting roles as a mother. She clearly makes use of this opportunity to show what she can do acting-wise. She also won quite a few awards for that. If it just weren't for the screenplay depicting her character so cliché-loaden at the beginning...

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Apart from Ma Dong-seok ("Chronicles of Evil", "The Five"), who manages to give his role a bit of color, the rest pales in comparison. The female protagonist put aside the characters lack psychological depth. The story itself is told through flashbacks, whereas sometimes two time levels overlap, and it's particularly thanks to the editing that events are often looking more fast-paced than they actually are. With merely 75 minutes "Azooma" isn't a long flick either. On a technical level, with the movie's mix of a tv drama look and an art house shaky cam style, it is obvious that there wasn't much of a budget at hand. The criticism on society (the film's original title ironically translates as "A fair society") is very much apparent, but this makes us wonder even the more what the finale with its extremey graphic depiction of violence is supposed to mean. It seems like a foreign body and is just another element that harms the movie.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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