(a note on Kim Ji-Young , Born 1982 directed by Kim Do-Young)
By Howra Salaheddin
There are stories we hear every day in passing conversations. There are people we see every day, people we grew up with. There are stories we live. And none of them might make it to the big screen or a novel, stories about normal people doesn’t seem to faze anyone enough.
Kim Do-young’s debut as a director is the adaption of the novel with the same name written by Cho Nam-joo. Even though the film was a first it doesn’t have many shortcomings, Jung Yu-mi’s great acting is its strength and I think the fact that a group of women was behind this really made it work. Aside from the challenging job of acting ordinary characters, which means any mistake can be detected by the public audience, the main cast, Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi, also had to deal with anti-feminist (and let’s be honest anti-women) comments that spammed their social media (ironically, Jung Yu-mi had to deal with much more hate than Gong Yoo, her male costar). This book started uproar for the #metoo movement in South Korea and it became the second Korean million-seller since Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook in 2009 and is known as one of the best feminist works of the century in South Korea.
Kim Ji-young is a common name in South Korea, 82 is a common birth year and this story is a common story. We’re all familiar with loneliness, that sinking feeling you get when you see the world around you move and go further but all you can do is to sit and watch. And it’s also safe to say we’re familiar with depression. But the truth is that even though everyone has a different experience of both of these things, housewives and stay at home mothers share a sort of solitude. Ji-young, our titular character played by Jung Yu-mi is also a housewife with a 26 months old daughter. Her husband played by Gong Yoo works till late in the night, their holidays are split between visiting Ji-young’s and his family and every time Ji-young leaves the house she has to hear people’s comments on how she’s living the dream, hanging out at home and wasting his husband’s money so Ji-young is spending all her hours with a child that only knows how to say “Mommy” and cry and she has to deal with this guilt trip. So it’s not shocking really to see her fall into numbness.
Dae-hyun, her husband, first starts to notice an issue when she talks about the sudden bursts of sadness she gets while she watches the sunset, he recommends her to go see a therapist when she has the time (which she never has.) and she laughs it off saying “What? Should I go ask doctor why do I get sad when the sun sets?” then when after laboring two days in her husband’s family house she finally breaks down and speaks as if she’s her own mother because that’s the only way that the words would finally come out, Dae-hyun understands the depth of the problem. Ji-young also has no recollection of these episodes which make it harder for Dae-hyun, how do you tell your wife that she’s been sort of possessed by the ghost of women in her life?
All women have a history behind themselves, they carry the sacrifices their mothers and their mothers’ mothers made and I understand this well enough. It’s as if every struggle in your life is connected to a struggle your mother had and every struggle of your mother is connected to the life your grandmother has lead. So you kind of promise yourself to never be like her, to break the cycle somehow, to make the catcalls and harassments worth it. You promise to get a job and never be like your own mother, bowing her head before your father’s family and giving up on her dreams of becoming a teacher to support the education of her brothers. But you see; it’s a systemic problem that’s not really in your hands anymore.
Throughout the film Ji-young remembers her traumas and life, she remembers wanting to become a writer and her father buying her little brother the fancy pen, she remembers being a teenager on the bus and a boy waiting to get her alone to molest her and her father tells her to stop smiling at strangers and also her school uniform is really short, she remembers being her boss’ favorite worker but never getting any promotions because the company is afraid the women would take pregnancy leaves and hurt the team. And it’s not just Ji-young herself, it’s a solitude every single woman in Ji-young’s life share, it’s something so common that you can’t even talk about easily. It’s a sort of like being non-existent.
“Doctor? I don’t think it’s so bad living like this as someone’s mom and wife. Sometimes I’m happy but sometimes I feel trapped. Then I realize, it's actually all my fault. Others found the way out, but I don't have the skills to. So I fell behind.”
The truth is that we have progressed past traditional patriarchy and misogyny. Girls have to study and get good grades and they should get good jobs to help their families but those same girls shouldn’t want a raise or dare go back to work after the birth of their child because the system wouldn’t pay them the same as their husband and logically thinking the husband can’t get further in his job if he takes a break to help with the kid. It’s silly. So in modern society, we’re stuck in a paradox filled with guilt because sometimes housewives do have it better than working mums and single women, they have a house they can stay in all day and they do get to spend the money someone else earns but that job wouldn’t even be possible if someone wasn’t taking care of the child. And at the end of the day, they get shamed by women and men over something that they can’t control anymore. It’s a system that needs to be questioned and a cycle that won’t break unless you and I all help each other.