KOREA SEASON – DISABILITY IN KOREAN CINEMA Programmer’s note
KOREA SEASON – DISABILITY IN KOREAN CINEMA
All around the world, the spectrum of film themes and film forms that portray impairments continues to expand. Disabled actors are increasingly being cast in roles as disabled characters, and we are also seeing growing diversity in the types of impairments portrayed in these films and stories. In the 2022 film The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, for example, scenes that show the blind lead, Jakko, are filmed in focus, while scenes that show the world around him are mostly a blur. The 2021 film CODA (an abbreviation that stands for “Child of Deaf Adults”), which tells the story of a hearing daughter to two d/Deaf parents, made headlines when d/Deaf actor Troy Kotsur won the 73rd Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as father Frank Rossi.
However, in the case of Korean films, it is still extremely rare for Disabled characters to be portrayed by Disabled actors. A notable exception is Disabled actor and painter Jung Eunhye, who played Young-hui, an artist with Down syndrome, in the 2022 television series Our Blues. In a majority of cases, though, theatrical films about disability treat the characters’ impairments as little more than symbols of hardship or simple plot devices.
At this year’s Korea Season, we will introduce four films that address the theme of disability. These two fiction films and two documentaries are works that each ask, in their own way, for the audience to engage with the idea of disability more deeply.
Innocent Witness tells the story of Ji-woo, an autistic teenage girl, as she stands witness in a murder trial. The script was written by Moon Ji-won, the writer behind last year’s world-famous drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo, and bears some similarities, in that it deals with both autism spectrum disorder and the legal system–in fact, Innocent Witness could be considered a prequel to the story of Extraordinary Attorney Woo. ( Moon Ji-won stated in an interview that when she was asked to write the script for Extraordinary Attorney Woo, she approached it as if she were writing the story of Ji-woo, the lead of Innocent Witness, growing up and becoming a lawyer.) In the film, Ji-woo states that although her dream is to become a lawyer, that may never become her reality–however, she can become a witness instead. However, her suitability in the role of “witness” is rooted in a debate over her trustworthiness, which is inevitably linked to prejudice against Disabled people. The film effectively links themes of trust, solidarity, prejudice, and understanding with the reality of being disabled in today’s society.
Corydoras seeks to expand on these themes by documenting the odyssey of Park Dong-soo, a disabled man with cerebral palsy who left his facility ten years ago and has been living independently ever since. Park’s story is one of resilience and determination, as he has overcome many challenges to build a life for himself outside of the institution. The documentary explores Park’s memories of the care home and his doubts about freedom, while also celebrating his achievements and his unwavering spirit.
Nocturne is another documentary film that connects disability with the realms of family history and art. The film delves into the psychology of a family who continues to fall out and reconcile. It shows the younger son’s observations of his mother, who tries to support her older son’s disability by encouraging his art, and his cold realisation of the deep emotional rift that exists in the family.
Finally, My Lovely Angel tells the story of a man who finds new meaning in his life as he learns to communicate with a child who has audiovisual impairments, which are still not widely known or understood. The film focuses on the way the two characters communicate, and shows the way their communication creates an almost utopian world between them. Despite the dramatic setting, delicate performances by the two lead actors makes the audience believe in the power of intentional communication.
Choi Eun Young
Programmer for Persons with Disabilities Film Festival in Korea