Review: Jeong-sun

Written and directed by Jeong Ji-hye, Jeong-sun’s unremarkable but not unhappy life is rocked to its core by the shame and mortification of a shared private video. Starring: Kim Keum-soon, Jo Hyun-wu, Yoon Geumseon-ah and Kimchoi Yong-joon.

Whenever digital sexual assault is discussed, which for anyone not familiar is the sharing of sexual images and video without consent, it’s typically linked with young people. In Jeong-sun, Jeong Ji-hye presents us with a middle-aged victim, highlighting that this is a crime which affects people of all ages. That choice works wonderfully well with the stunningly understated style that she employs. The direction throughout is impeccably grounded, it simply follows the everyday experience of Jeong-sun (Kim Keum-soon). However, after the incident occurs, it uses that style in a different manner, its refined nature digs deep into how quickly and wholly Jeong-sun cuts herself off from life. It doesn’t try to overly dramatize her depression and anxiety but it does add in small, graceful gestures to emphasise the severity of it. Also surprisingly given that the film centres on a factory worker living a quiet life, Jeong Ji-hye provides the space to give the visual a great variety. Adding in some natural imagery and preventing the film from becoming trapped, it has room to breathe and expand.

All of those qualities are then enhanced by the performance from Kim Keum-soon, it’s genuine perfection. She’s relatable, sympathetic, kind and charming but she’s also unpredictable and has a darker edge that hides behind her obedient persona. Every so often when she lets out her personality it’s infectious because she’s secretly full of strength and humour. There’s also a superb supporting cast starting with Yoon Geumseon-ah playing Jeong-sun’s daughter, which is full of independence and compassion. She’s a young woman caught between caring for her mother and starting a life of her own but she’s never resentful for a moment, portraying her generosity. Jo Hyun-wu and Kimchoi Yong-joon both present different sides to the fragile male ego. Jo Hyun-wu brings a sweet but strong naivety while Kimchoi Yong-joon gives us the youthful entitlement, arrogance and bitterness towards the elder generation.

The combination of themes that this story presents is an interesting one, it’s both simple and complex. Its foundation is rooted in respect, loyalty and betrayal, following how Jeong-sun deals with this experience and what it takes for her to find peace again. In that sense it’s simple but the layers upon layers of emotions, psychology and ethical questions that it explores along the way are much more complicated. It’s a compelling and down to earth example of modern exploitation, as well as how perpetrators can feel so easily disconnected from their crime when it’s online. One fascinating element of it is the final act, there’s a definite possibility of a darker ending, the atmosphere adds in huge potential for something drastic but it resists that embellishment. Even though it chooses not to take that road, the tonal change which holds that possibility, helps to enrich its final scenes. It’s particularly noticeable in the ending but it does also have a part to play throughout, there’s a satisfyingly growing intensity and risk to the pacing.

Jeong-sun is a sublimely understated and affecting drama. Jeong Ji-hye has created a superb central character to be the heart of this story and Kim Keum-soon brings her to life with grace, personality and depth. It’s compelling from start to finish, the style is incredibly impressive for a debut feature, and it has a great deal to say without needing to say most of it out loud. The entire cast give strong, memorable performances and it adds an entirely new perspective to modern exploitation of women’s bodies.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½ | 9/10

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2022

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