Han Gong-Ju 한공주 Year: 2013 Director: Lee Su-jin Writer: Lee Su-jin Cast: Chun Woo-hee, Jung In-sun, Kim So-young Running Time: 112 minutes Country: South Korea
Lee Su-jin directs a powerful and brave coming-of-age story based on real life events of an infamous crime that happened in Miryang, South Korea.
17 year old girl Han Gong-ju is forced to change schools after being involved in a scandalous incident. Her previous school teacher takes it upon himself to help her out by arranging a place for her to hide out, in his mother's home. After starting a new school, Han Gong-ju tries to move on from the incident while keeping to herself but when her new friend Eun-hee discovers that she is a talented singer, she records her and uploads it to the internet on a fansite. Just as Gong-ju's life is starting to come together, her past begins to catch up.
Surprisingly Lee Su-jin tackled such a controversial subject for his directorial debut while also serving as the screen-writer. It proved to be a rewarding choice as the film went on to win numerous top awards around the festival circuit including the Tiger Award at the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Golden Star at the 2013 Marrakech International Film Festival and Best New Director and Best Actress at the 35th Blue Dragon Film Awards.
The story is told through a non-conventional narrative and plot structure. Jumping subtly between past and present, it often catches you off guard before you realise what time frame the story is currently in. This adds to the viewers confusion as the mystery starts to unfold leaving you desperate and anxious to know what transpired. The storytelling and pacing is handled expertly as the film reaches it's nail-biting conclusion. With each new flashback, the horrifying incident gets more and more shocking as the viewer discovers exactly what occurred. Although these scenes can be hard to watch, credit to director Lee Su-jin, he never delves in to shock tactics to get a reaction.
Chun Woo-hee at the age of 26 plays a character ten years her junior with finesse and believability. Starring as the traumatised teen she delivers a subtle, yet often highly emotional and convincing performance which encourages you to root for the character as she tries to adjust and move on with her life. Chun Woo-hee's award winning performance would probably net her an Oscar nomination if this was a Hollywood picture.
The story is helped along with some humour and beautiful music and although the film is very dark, it still often feels upbeat. Gong-ju takes up trying to learn to swim once she moves school which adds some light-hearted comic relief moments. As does her new friendship with Eun-hee, which is sweet and adds some much needed charm to the film. Overall the film and story is bold and powerful, and even though it can be a hard watch, it deserves to be seen.
Hang Gong-Ju is a low budget film which went on to receive critical acclaim and break box office records in South Korea for an independent release. The films also elevated two new stars in the lead actress and director who are certainly people you should keep a close eye on.