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Han Gong-ju - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Han Gong-joo

South Korea 2013


Lee Su-jin

Cheon Woo-hee
Jeong In-seon
Lee Yeong-ran
Kim So-yeong
Kwon Beom-taek
Jo Dae-hee
Kim Choi-yong
Yoo Seung-mok
Kim Hyun-jun

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Han Gong-ju

Story: Han Gong-ju (Cheon Woo-hee) transfers to another school. Her former teacher (Jo Dae-hee) takes care of her and gives her a room at his mother's, Mrs. Jo (Lee Yeong-ran). Gong-ju hasn't seen her own mother in years and her father is an alcoholic. Despite initial quarrels Gong-ju and Mrs. Jo get along better and better, but the girl still hasn't unpacked her things. She lacks trust in people and reason for that is a traumatic experience, because of which several students are on trial now. That's also why Gong-ju is now at a new school. She wants nothing more than to be left in peace, but her classmate Eun-hee (Jeong In-seon) apparently wants to be friends with her no matter what, since she heard the girl sing. Gong-ju is truely talented, but she doesn't care about that. After all she is trying to heal the scars of her past on her own since visiting her biological mother or going out for dinner with her father doesn't really help her either...

Review: In the last few years there were more and more movies coming out of Korea that dealt with social ills in the country. The crime depicted in "Han Gong-ju" seems particularly cruel and despite all the tactfulness the story is told with it is still mercilessly presented in its core. The drama has impressed critics and audiences alike, making the movie one of the most successful independent flicks coming out of the country. Yet, the drama certainly isn't for the faint-hearted. Furthermore, the slow pacing as well as the subtly told story will still mainly appeal to a patient audience. But despite or even because we don't get every answer on a silver platter the drama turns out to be very worthwhile.

Han Gong-ju - Film Screenshot 11

In order not to take anything away from the special shock moment in the film I have refrained from talking too much about the story, which unfortunately can't be said of a lot of other review sites in this case. However, the protagonist's main trauma is apparent at all times. Who she tries to escape or hide from isn't really clear in the beginning, even the more so since people constantly stress that she hasn't done anything wrong. But the answers can be found throughout the rest of the movie. In fact, puzzling together the little pieces is an unusual feature of the film, although it becomes evident at some points that there was too little story stretched throughout too much movie. But this doesn't become apparent truely often, since "Han Gong-ju" works efficently with its characters and especially its female protagonist. Therefore, the drama has a much needed strong foundation and also manages to win you over during its more slow-paced moments.

Han Gong-ju - Film Screenshot 12

Contrary to many other independet flicks "Han Gong-ju" isn't that lengthy. Every time the movie is about to get too lenghty, there is a new revelation or hint. For instance, the dialogue between Gong-ju and Eun-hee about their first kiss already makes you guess some of the information given later on. Accordingly, it isn't as frustrating to be left in the dark about certain events as it actually should have been. Thanks to affordable HD cameras nowadays the movie also doesn't look like an independent flick. On the contrary, there are a few parts where the pictures don't just look cold and melancholic, but instead stand out with lightflooded, sunny classrooms, in which for instance a short music video clip is shot. Considering the movie's main mood this should feel out of place, but that's not the case. With his debut director Lee Su-jin has proven to be quite talented.

The film is almost without any music, but in a few scenes Cheon Woo-hee, who already had supporting roles in "Thread of Lies" or "Sunny", even expresses her feelings of hope in a warm song. Cheon very impressively portrays a complex teenager, who somehow has to try coping with the trauma she suffers from while she can't find any support and help from the adult world. Her parents have abandoned her, only Mrs. Jo seems to look after her a bit, whereas the old lady's subplot is particularly well woven into the movie. However, it remains a mystery why exactly Eun-hee wants to be friends with Gong-ju. Gong-ju behaves like a misfit and just wants to be left in peace. But people don't leave her alone. In fact this even seems to help her, but coping with her trauma isn't an easy task.

Han Gong-ju - Film Screenshot 13

The flashbacks turn out to be implemented rather awkwardly. You don't exactly know at all times what time line we are on and particularly in the beginning this proves to be pretty irritating. Moreover, it merely seems to be a stylistic device to make the story appear more complex than it really is and create some tension as we are presented with the resolution of the events only at the very end. You could in fact put two and two together from all the hints we get before that, but this doesn't take anything away from the severeness of the trauma. "Han Gong-ju" isn't the gem than some want to see in it and the movie doesn't want to raise such expectation either. Instead this is a neatly written drama working with its characters and delivering some strong performances, not being pretentious in your usual art-house like fashion, but aiming at unraveling a cruel trauma in a natural way.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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