Sin-ui Seon-mul (Godsend) Review

Posted: April 26, 2014 in Drama, Foreign, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

1d4dc73113914baa80f967167b0c4993The treatment of rape in the arts – particularly the visual portrayal of the incident and its aftermath in movies and television – remains controversial though not taboo. In the most recently completed season of the British soap opera, Downton Abbey, fan favorite Anna was assaulted, and viewers did not respond well. Most believed it a cheap plot device that was not justified by the subsequent direction of the story or treatment of the characters involved. The same criticisms also apply to Sin-ui Seon-mul (Godsend), the new film from Korean director Moon Si-Hyun. Midway through the film, the narrative is derailed by a violent and artistically indefensible act that undercuts the good will that the director and her actresses have established to that point. The story does not recover, but instead lurches through a series of increasingly difficult and preposterous moments before finishing with a cloying, unsatisfying sequence.

It is possible that Si-Hyun was intimidated by her screenwriter, Ki-duk Kim. In introductory remarks before a screening at the Korea Cinema Today festival in Berlin, Germany, Si-Hyun said her film was an homage to the controversial Kim, who is known for violence and extreme sexual themes. Regardless of your view of Kim’s treatment of these matters in his own films, it doesn’t work here, and Si-Hyun should have used her prerogative to excise the offending portion of the script.

At the beginning of the movie, Seung-yeon (Lee Eun-woo) and her husband have been trying to conceive for seven years without success. While at the gynecologist, she meets So-young (Jeon Soo-jin), an unwed teenager who is six months pregnant by one of the more clueless members of his generation. So-young is no brain surgeon either, as she agrees to carry the infant to term and give it to Seung-yeon in exchange for a car, although she can’t drive. Seung-yeon takes her to a house in the woods until the baby is born, where the only neighbor is a strange fellow who lives in a tent at the bottom of the hill and becomes a de facto protector of the women when he’s not photographing or painting them.

The first hour has a naive, sweet, almost 60’s counter-culture vibe. The two actresses grow into their parts as their relationship deepens. Director Si-Hyun keeps a nice pace by flashing back to events in the recent past to explain actions and motivations without disrupting the flow. Then the aforementioned event occurs, and much is lost.

One can hope that the director will grow in confidence and take on material better suited to her own sensibilities. In her future films, she would also be well served to work with both lead actresses again. All deserved a better outcome than this.

One and a half stars.

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