Way Back Home 비밀의 정원 Dir: Park Sun-joo (2019) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

Way Back Home    Way Back Home Film Poster

비밀의 정원 Bimilui jeongwon

Release Date: October 05th, 2019

Duration: 113 mins.

Director: Park Sun-joo

Writer: Park Sun-joo (Script), 

Starring: Han Woo-yun, Jun Suk-ho, Jung Da-eun, Oh Min-ae, Yeom Hye-ran, Yoo Jae-myung,

OAFF IMDB Korean Film

Director Park Sun-joo graduated from making short films to her debut feature by adapting her 2017 short Mild Fever, winner of the Asian Short Film & Video Competition Grand Prize at the 19th Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, to make Way Back Home. Taking on the potentially incendiary topic of a woman confronting the emotional fallout from her rape, the film uses a more subdued tone to deliver a realistic depiction of survivors moving on.

The story follows Jeong-won, a swimming instructor who is happily married to her carpenter husband Sang-u. The future seems to be opening up new horizons for the two as they are about to move into a larger home and welcome a child into the world. Jeong-won’s happiness is thrown off balance when she receives a call from the police informing her that the man who sexually assaulted her ten years ago was recently caught and they need her to provide a statement. Jeong-won had kept this incident a secret from Sang-u and now it threatens the stability of her peaceful married life.

What happens from the first phone call to the end of the film is the process of Jeong-won having to accept this horrific act after keeping it at a distance for such a long time. That effort at keeping things at a distance includes how she treats friends and family, some of whom are kept at arm’s length out of a myriad of emotions such as shame and guilt. The process of talking to those around her who also feel various strains of emotions, from a loyal mother and sister with whom contact is dodged to her devoted husband who has been kept in the dark, provides ample drama as the different nuances in how a survivor moderates her feelings towards herself and those around her is explored.

One might expect histrionics and melodrama from the topic but director Park Sun-joo carefully and quietly depicts people trying to navigate such a difficult issue using static framing and long shots to allow the actors to portray a complex array of their emotions so that a glance away from a loved one, the pursing of lips in frustration, walking into the rain in confusion, have a suitable impact.

The rape isn’t shown but the emotions are felt when Jeong-won thinks back on it. The camerawork feels subjective at these times, as if matching the control and loss of it Jeong-won feels and, crucially, this happens when men try to dictate or burrow into the narrative she constructs for her world without her permission. Her secrecy and will to live is an act of defiance against the attack.

Subtle and realistic is how this film is best described and its depiction of a marriage is not marred by grandstanding arguments and wall punches for the sake of drama but the struggle of people to overcome resentments and open up emotionally to each other. There is the refreshing quiet determination to provide support and care not seen enough in cinema. When there is a big release of emotion, it feels earned and the relief at the end seems genuinely cathartic and well earned to make this a refreshing and meaningful drama.

My review for this film was originally posted on VCinema on March 07th.

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