Film Review: ‘Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982’ is a Jolting Revelation Of South Korea’s Unseen Misogyny4 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Kim Ji-Young has one of the most common female names for people her age. She works at a PR agency. Kim Ji-Young gets married and has a daughter. So she can raise her daughter, Kim Ji-Young quits her job. She leads an ordinary life up to this point. Suddenly, Kim Ji-Young begins to talk like her mother, her older sister and other people. She seems possessed by other people. What happened to her?
Director: Kim Do-Young
Cast: Jung Yu-Mi, Gong Yoo, Cha Mi-Kyung, Gong Min-Jung, Kim Sung-Cheol, Lee Eol, Lee Bong-Ryun
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 120 minutes
I visited South Korea when I was 12 after completing my PSLE. Because of a spontaneous change in the itinerary, our tour guide informed us that she and her colleague had to make a phone call to their husbands to ask for their permission to buy tickets to enter Lotte World theme park with us. In my adolescent and naïve mind, I imagined it in the same vein as me asking my parents if I could go out with my friends.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is based on the controversial novel of the same name published in 2016 by Cho Nam-Joo which sold more than a million copies. The movie’s release in 2019 coincided with the wave of #MeToo movements, which sparked another round of tension and gender conflict in the country.
From teenage to motherhood, Ji-Young’s (Jung Yu-Mi) daily life is likened to being present at a Chinese New Year reunion dinner. Nosey aunties constantly question her of why she hasn’t had a job, husband or child. They critique her appearance and insinuate her ineligibility for marriage. The ugly reality of a gender-biased society is also disguised under a thin veil of jokes the characters make with each other. Sexist and misogynistic remarks that are casually made by the characters underscore how such notions are normalised and deeply embedded in South Korean society.
The movie also reflects Ji-Young’s incarceration to her identity only as a mother and a housewife. It is replete with consecutive scenes of Ji-Young being strapped to the home and exhausting her entire day cleaning the house and taking care of her daughter. Strategically inserted flashbacks of Ji-Young’s life as a student and as an office worker also jarringly accentuate the freedom that was swiftly snatched away from her upon becoming a mother. Ji-Young’s life seemed to be reduced to nothing but maintaining the house and raising her child.
Ji-Young is made to feel like an intruder anywhere outside of her home, and a slave to her housewife duties in the home. She is bullied and verbally abused by her mother-in-law for being a weak and incompetent housewife. She is also usually humiliated and misunderstood in public by young unmarried office workers who know nothing about motherhood. Such scenes made me want to crawl my way into the screen to vindicate Ji-Young and demand an apology from those who have falsely understood and mistreated her.
The movie’s slice-of-life style accentuates Ji-Young’s daily struggles even more. There are frequent quiet, lone and depressive shots of Ji-Young staring into space and sitting either at home or in a park sipping coffee, reflecting in serious contemplation of her choice of marriage and motherhood. You also feel sorry for her and want to pull her into a hug and reassure her that she is doing an amazing job.
The brilliant choice of the story’s title tops it all off. As “Kim Ji-Young” is one of the most common female Korean names, it widens the scope and tells you that Ji-Young is just one of the thousands of women who go through similar hardships. Jung Yu-Mi’s performance, who plays Ji-Young, takes up most of the movie’s screen time. Her ability to carry the entire movie with her subtle yet intense emotions convince you of the draining and tiring life of a mother.
By casting one of Korea’s leading actors Gong-Yoo as Ji-Young’s adorkable and sensitive husband, it might have inadvertently softened and undermined the movie’s contentious messages. It comforts audiences that being in Ji-Young’s position is not as intolerable as it actually is. The light autumn and earthen tonal palette of the movie also suggests that the issues presented in the movie are not as grave as they seem or can be quickly alleviated.
While the movie sidelines the redeemable aspects of motherhood like the sense of fulfilment of raising a child, it succeeds in presenting a real and fresh perspective of the reality of Korean women today. Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is a strong antithesis to popular Korean culture that fetishises infatuation and puppy love.
Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is available for rental streaming on the Google Play Store.