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Original Title:

South Korea 2011


Hwang Dong-hyeok

Gong Yoo
Jeong Yu-mi
Kim Hyeon-soo
Jeong In-seo
Baek Seung-hwan
Jang Gwang
Kim Ji-yeong
Park Hye-jin

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aka The Crucible

Story: Teacher Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo) comes to a small town in which he is to teach at a school for the hearing impaired. His wife has died and so the only one he has left is his daughter who his mother currently looks after. Kang soon realizes that something isn't right at his new school. The pupils act strange, especially the girl Yeon-do (Kim Hyeon-soo). The teacher finds out that not only she but the mentally slightly retarded Yoo-ri (Jeong In-seo) and the boy Min-soo (Baek Seung-hwan), who has lost his brother a few days before, are abused by their teachers. During some of those incidents Kang is even present. But when he eventually finds out that the children have been raped on several occasions, too, among the perpetrators also being the school principal (Jang Gwang), he asks his new friend Yoo-jin (Jeong Yu-mi) for help, who is working in the human rights department. The two are constantly meeting the limits of what they can do and no one seems to be seriously interested in dealing with the case until the media picks it up.

Review: There aren't many films which achieve that viewers out of popular outrage are putting so much pressure on the government that a case is reopened. "Silenced" did exactly that. The movie is based on Gong Ji-young's novel which describes the true events at a school for the hearing impaired in Gwangju. Although the culprits were put on trial and were sentenced, the degree of penalty is completely disproportionate to the nature of the crime. "Silenced" effectively shows the outrageous injustice of a system that makes people with a lot of influence and the right connections untouchable. Corruption is still a huge problem in South Korea and so money seems to make everything possible. Aside from showing the torment the several individuals had to endure the director accordingly works on a sociocritical level as well.

The film starts in a foggy town and at a school that is located in a rather secluded area. This already creates an atmosphere of reticency and dark secrets. That the pupils are all behaving very odd also adds to the creepiness of the movie. Something horrible must have happened at the school or is still happening. When the secret is disclosed and the movie's events are relocated into a court room this by no means lessens the extent of horrid acts standing in the center of "Silenced". It is pretty obvious from the getgo that the hearing impaired children aren't just beaten but sexually abused as well, but the the pretty graphic depiction in the movie makes you just realize the true torment the children have been exposed to for years.

Of course you might state that it is unnecessary to show a man standing over a child with his pants down, but this provocative approach of the director without a doubt is successful, because as the film progresses an extreme amount of anger and hate is building up in the viewer towards the culprits and the unfair system of justice. This surely aren't scenes you would expect to see in a Hollywood drama and you also have to wonder whether the child actors are really supposed to play such scenes...
When it becomes clear what kind of crime has been committed the teacher and his new friend bring this case to court. But first they over and over again run against brick walls since no one wants to help them. The police is corrupt and apart from them the principal in general seems to have bought the right to do what he wants at his school.

Luckily, the media can put enough pressure on the officials to take the principal and two co-perpetrators to court. But that's when we really get to know what good connections can get you. Those who have made it to the top in Korean society are apparently allowed to act outside the law and get away with it. In-ho doesn't give up, though, and the children, more than anyone else Yeon-do, are smart enough to pose a thread to the principal after all. The scenes in the court are also not taking away anything from the film's tension factor as it is often the case with court movies, but instead they work with the story and the drama in more detail. After it has become obvious that the children have been sexually abused for years, there was the risk that the movie wouldn't go anywhere afterwards, but fortunately that's not the case.

"Silenced" is carried by its story and the fantastic child actors. Actor Gong Yoo ("Coffee Prince", "My Tutor Friend") is playing a rather empty sheet who lacks colors on a character level. The teacher seems to be mute himself at first when it comes to injustice he witnesses with his very own eyes, and by that he isn't really different from any other average Korean, or at least so it seems. But in a very effectively shot scene another teacher pushes things over the brink and the silent teacher becomes the guardian of the children. Still, he remains a character that needs elaboration as does his partner Yoo-jin. However, director Hwang Dong-hyeok ("My Father") knows very well how to make his pictures do the talking for them. The movie's subject is profound and is emotionally very disturbing. The raw and critical illumination of Korean society's deficiencies filmed on the basis of the suffering of individual characters and also the added fact that all of this is based on a true story makes "Silenced" an extraordinary drama.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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