Sunday 29 July 2018

The Current Cinema - Peter Hourigan reviews HERSTORY (Min Kyu-Dong, South Korea) ...and comments on Hoyts new prices

HERSTORY – Korean Comfort Women.
Sixty years after the end of World War II, Japan is avoiding most responsibility for the experiences of the women it forced into sexual slavery.  Most of the women, and perpetrators would now be dead, or at best very old. But the sores from World War II on this issue persist, certainly between Korea and Japan.
In the 1990s a small group of Korean Comfort Women took legal action against Japan, in Japan.  In all, they were put through 23 different trials between 1992 and 1998. These trials are the dramatic focus of a new Korean film Herstory having a somewhat underexposed release.  It is directed by Min Kyu-Dong, a quite prolific director with a mixed bag of titles to his name, but several which have been solid achievements. (Memento Mori,1999, for example.)
Herstory is certainly a solid achievement, fitting comfortably into the pattern of films dramatizing real events.  In this the character we follow through these events is not one of the comfort women but the confident, almost arrogant owner of a Travel Agency, who gets into trouble at the start when her agency is accused of organized sex tours.  But Moon Jeong-Sook becomes involved in the issue when she sees a comfort woman opening up about her experiences on television. And at home, she is having trouble with her own school-aged daughter.  Jeong- sook is even proud of the way she neglects her, claiming it is character building.
Jeong-sook starts soliciting support for the women, and offers her Tourist agency offices as a call-centre when it has been temporarily closed by the authorities for the Sex tours scandal. I assume that she is a fictitious character, but as such, she works well to provide the viewer with a passage into and through the story.  Her character arc is in itself involving, and expands the relevance of the issue beyond just the lives of the Comfort Women themselves.
 The film is punctuated with scenes of street demonstrations in both Korea and Japan, both supporting the women and condemning them for the shame theyare bringing on the community.
Dramatically, the small group of Comfort Women is made up of very interesting and strongly drawn characters. I don’t know if these are the real biographies of the women who launched this legal case. But it doesn’t matter – as well as each one being a strong individual person, through their experiences the film touches on many of the lingering impacts of their wartime fate, not just on them but on their own families and the whole community at large.  For example, one woman has been living her life with a violent adult son. His violence comes from syphilitic damage inherited from a Japanese soldier who raped his mother.
Courtroom scenes always make for good drama, and this has some very effective ones. The testimony of the women carries even greater impact because of their hesitancy and the clear stress given it brings on them.  Perhaps some of the courtroom opposition is painted a little too simplistically black, but in the overall context this is forgivable. 
Herstory is not perhaps a great cinematic masterpiece, but it is a rare film tackling this still explosive issue with tact, and humanity.  It is worth seeing.
In Melbourne, this is showing in very limited sessions at several Hoyts cinemas.  
....and another, related, matter...It seems that Hoyts has introduced a new pricing policy, which abolishes all concessions (e.g. student, senior) and has variables for some sessions.  On a quick skate around their site I saw session prices from $10 (one film, that’s been on a long time down to one early daytime session) up to $24 for a regular evening session of a ‘big’ film (plus more of course for 3D and Lux sessions.  Herstory at a Friday 4pm session cost me $20, with no concessions available.

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