30th Apr2015

‘Han Gong-Ju’ Blu-ray Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Chun Woo-hee, In-seon Jeong, So-Young Kim, Yeong-ran Lee | Written and Directed by Lee Su-jin


When watching movies we tend to expect them to explain things to us, almost in the assumption that we should be comfortable in knowing exactly where the film is going and what it wants from us as the audience.  Some films have the confidence to not work this way though, they ease us in to a situation where the unknown creates an element of suspense, until the inevitable sledge-hammer of emotions finally hits.  This is the case with Korean movie Han Gong-Ju.

The best way to watch the film is to go in cold, knowing as little as possible as to what is to come.  This is how we are introduced to Han Gong-Ju (Chun Woo-hee).  We don’t know anything about her or her past, all we know is that her teacher is taking her away from her home and removing her to somewhere she won’t be known.  Forced to live with the teacher’s mother, Han Gong-Ju looks to rebuild her life and try to escape her past, escaping whatever happened unless it comes back to haunt her once again.

To call the film a slow burner could be fitting, but this is not really what Lee Su-jin’s aim seems to be.  Instead we are presented with the main character and are drip fed enough information to keep us guessing about exactly what she has done, or what has happened to her.  In many ways we are like everybody she meets in her new surroundings, her true self is hidden from the world.  The fact she fights to stop any information about her leaking onto the Internet, something almost impossible hints at the dangers of her location being revealed.

When the truth is finally fully revealed to the audience we are emotionally connected enough to the girl for the revelation to be intensely shocking.  Lee Su-jin has worked up to this point masterfully manipulating our connection to the main character and forcing us to become part of the experience, no matter how much it hurts.  In many ways the movie is a masterclass in how to make the audience invest in the story, putting them into just the right emotional space for the metaphorical sledge-hammer to hit the hardest.  Though he sets up the ending in a way to at least provide a smile after the darkness that comes before, which makes the film all the more bitter-sweet.

Han Gong-Ju is a character that at the start of the film is an introvert, but as the film progresses she comes out of her shell, almost finding that level of normality that she fully deserves.  Chun Woo-hee does an excellent job in the role, without even saying a word she is able to convey the characters helplessness and fear, while conveying a strong emotional shield to keep people away from her, even if we don’t know what happened to her, we know she is still running from it.  It comes as no surprise that she won awards for the role, for Han Gong-Ju to work Chun Woo-hee had to make sure the character connected with the audience, if this didn’t happen then all the required emotional impact would never have been as successful as it is.

Dark and emotionally intense, Han Gong-Ju is a film that needs all of your concentration to get its desired effect, but when it does you’ll not be forgetting it any time soon.  It’s a movie that raises many questions as to certain views in society and this is where the movie becomes powerful, the fact that there is a feeling of dark realism in there is chilling.  With a beauty not only in Lee Su-jin’s direction, but also the performance by Chun Who-hee, Han Gong-Ju is a must see movie for fans of Asian Cinema.

***** 5/5

Han Gong-Ju is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.

Review originaly posted on PissedOffGeek

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