It was a boring day during the quarantine, and so I watched a Korean film called Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 which stars Jung Yu-mi and Gong Yoo. This film was released on October 23rd, 2019 and it landed on the top of South Korea box office in its release week. It is adapted from a Korean novel of the same title which centres on an ordinary woman, Kim Ji-young, who suffers from depression after becoming a mother. There was a lot of controversies during the film production, even the actress Jung Yu-mi was attacked on the internet after she confirmed to act in this film. This is because the story is considered to involve some sensitive social topics. People think this is a film that tries to advocate feminism, but I think it is talking about gender or spreading the wrong sentiment that women are more important than men.
In the opposite way, I think the author wants to tell a story about a human’s struggle in life and tries to show what the society is like now in South Korea. Although the story is presented from a female perspective, in real life both men and women are likely to encounter the same situation as the protagonist. I hope that everyone can put aside their stance while watching the movie and, instead, empathise with a soul that is hurting. Sometimes, controversy is not a bad thing; we can have a discussion on it and maybe we can find some new ideas in the discussion. However, just remember to respect people’s opinions and nothing is right or wrong in the world, it is just all up to ourselves. So, let us discuss this movie.
Everyone is Kim Ji-young
The movie gave a wave of “everyone is Kim Ji-young” because a lot of people find out they feel the same way as Kim Ji-young after watching the movie. Kim Ji-young in the story is just like everyone in our life, she has her own dreams and aspiration but at the same time she must face all the pains from reality. Even though her family and marriage life are good, everyone has their own problems that need to be faced, and these fine and even trivial problems may become an invisible knife which will eventually make ourselves bruised.
I am sure no one likes to tell others their feelings and what they are facing. Apart from not wanting to release our negative feelings to others, it is also because we always believe we can handle it and soon all these problems will go. However, we forget it might accumulate and become a huge burden to us one day. Just like Kim Ji-young does not like to vent her feelings and she encounters many difficulties and discrimination in her life. After a long period of accumulation, she eventually becomes ill.
In the movie, there is one scene where Kim Ji-young tells her therapist: “I think it’s good to live like this as someone else’s mom or someone else’s wife, I feel happy sometimes, but sometimes I also feel like I am locked in somewhere.” Although Kim Ji-young has a good family and marriage, she is trapped in the repetitive and complicated chores, trapped in the cry of the child, and even trapped in humiliation as she becomes the easy target of finger-pointing the pointing of others. Maybe she has tried to vent to the people around her, but still this is her own “war” and she must eventually face it herself.
Fortunately, the people around her, especially her husband, are willing to understand her and not give up on her. Their love and support give her the power to face her problems and find a way out for herself. In fact, we are all likely to become victims like Kim-Ji-young in real life and we all have our own worries and sorrows, but if we are willing to step out and start caring for each other, maybe one day we will save a soul or we will be the one saved.
“Mum-choong” and Society’s Stereotypes of Housewife
At the beginning of the movie, Kim Ji-young is busy with housework, which shows that she becomes a full-time housewife after giving birth. People always think that a full-time housewife is an ideal life because we do not need to work, we can stay at home all day, and even spend the money earned by our partner. This seems like a life of leisure for everyone, but becoming a housewife actually sacrifices all your time and consumes all your energy in taking care of a lot of stuff and details. It is a job full of sweat and labour, but people always take it for granted.
For example, Kim Ji-young tells her husband that the doctor asked her, “The rice is made with a rice cooker, clothes are washed in a washing machine, why does your wrist hurt?” The doctor does not seem to understand the hard work of a housewife, like we need to dry the clothes even if we do not wash the clothes ourselves and we also need to cook other dishes even if we do not have to “make” the rice. Moreover, she still has a child to take care of.
“Mum-choong” is a South Korean slang which translates to “mum roach” or “mum worm”. This word is a pejorative expression to mock a full-time housewife who always spends the money earned by others and yet lives a luxurious life. In one scene, the protagonist spills coffee accidentally in a coffee shop and people around her start whispering that she is a “mum-roach”. The word “mum-roach” appears only once in the movie, but there are many scenes about how society satirises housewives and this highlights the stereotypes of being a housewife in today’s society.
I knew this word when I first watched this film and I do not understand why people have created this word. Is it right to judge a person when we do not fully understand their situation? Do you mock a person when you do not know a person much? The world has freedom of speech now, but does this mean we will lose the respect from people?
Sexist gender preference and misogynistic discrimination
The movie will not complete in telling Kim Ji-young’s life if it does not talk about gender preference and discrimination. This issue has brought many unfair treatments to women and it can cause a permanent mental issue to a person. In the movie, although Kim Ji-young’s father loves and cares for his children, he always prioritises his son in everything, such as when he only buys the pen for his son, only remembers what bread his son likes to eat, and so on.
Kim Ji-young also encounters sexism in the workplace, like how the company only hires male employees or how they only promote male employees. The movie even brings up the societal pressure for women to give birth, especially in the older generation. For example, Kim Ji-young always hears her mother apologise to her mother-in-law for having a daughter.
Recently, society is slowly accepting the demand of gender equality, but most people still insist on preferring men. We technically have no right in changing people’s minds and argument can lead to a waste of time, but all we can do is to try and prove ourselves. It would be more effective to achieve gender equality if we are willing to let go of all prejudices and face the problem rationally.
Sexual harassment also appears in the middle of the movie. Kim Ji-young gets the news that her previous workplace has long installed hidden cameras inside the female washroom. This incident causes a lot of female employees to panic and feel scared, some of them even leave the company because they feel ashamed. This news brings back a traumatic memory from when young Kim Ji-young was followed and harassed by a boy.
In fact, there are many hidden camera crimes going around the world in recent years, especially in South Korea. This is a serious social problem and the number of hidden camera crimes has been increasing until now. According to BBC, the number of these crimes in South Korea alone reached more than 6,000 cases in 2017.
The following year, South Koreans protested in Seoul over hidden sex cameras because they cannot live in fear anymore. Besides, many other sexual harassment cases like stalking, inappropriate touching and rape are still rampant. All these cases can also happen to men and it is not easy to avoid these things happening to us. We can only protect ourselves by being aware and careful all the time and stop watching illegal videos on the internet.
Moral of the Story & A Husband’s Love?
I like how the director uses a simple way to present the story. The whole movie truly expresses the feelings we have in our life and the nature of our society. Perhaps the purpose is not to make everyone pay attention to the issues, but to hope that everyone can relate to the protagonist and her pain. There are many disagreement in society nowadays. This is because both sides do not understand each other, and they are unwilling to understand it. Think about it, if you were the victim, would you still victimise others? Would you feel good if you were the one who was being pointed at? Would you be uncomfortable if you were treated unfairly every time? And would the doctor ask the question again if he knew how hard it was to be a housewife?
However, it is not possible to let people experience our life and it is hard to let people truly understand our positions, but I believe if we are willing to respect others or spend a little time to listen and understand others, maybe the world will have less conflicts and more cares, just like Kim Ji-young’s husband. He never gives up on his wife when he knows his wife is sick. He tries to understand her and gives her all the love and support so that she can recover slowly. After Kim Ji-young realises that she is sick, she does not give up on herself and she even comforts her husband: “You must have been working very hard.”
The love between them is the most precious part in the movie. The most touching part in the movie is the love between the mother and the daughter which should be mentioned. Lastly, I hope you will like this movie and find some resonance and positive energy from this film.
Written by Goh Jia Hui
Cover photo credits: HelloKpop