Hae-sook Kim, Hee-ae Kim, Yong-nyeo Lee, Joon-Han Kim
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…genuinely tugs at your heart-strings…
Asian cinema continues to captivate with latest drama Herstory, hailing from South Korean director Kyu-dong Min.
Based on a real-life story of three comfort women and seven other victims during the ‘Gwanbu Trial’ which took place in Shimonoseki, Japan, 1992, the film and its varied characters represent an ongoing struggle for comfort women who were dragged away from their homes or schools and taken to Japanese labour camps where they were forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s imperial army before and during World War II.
Set in Busan, South Korea, the story follows a hot-headed entrepreneur Jung-sook Moon (Hee-ae Kim), whose Busan-based tour agency was found to be procuring prostitution that violates the Prevention of Prostitution Act, which in turn forces Moon’s business to be suspended for three months. During the time her business is suspended, ironically, Moon establishes a hotline in her office for sex slavery victims. Vowing to run the hotline for only three months, Moon has a sudden change of heart when she uncovers her long-time housekeeper, Jeong-gil Bae (Hae-sook Kim), was one of the victims.
Moon encourages the plaintiffs to speak out regarding their devastating experiences and demand an apology along with compensation from the Japanese government. Her obsession with winning the legal battle causes the case to run over the course of six years, and 23 arduous trials later, only to be concluded with a half-victory, with $3,000 compensation to each of the plaintiffs, but no apology. Unfortunately, the rare win for the plaintiffs which made history among trials related to “comfort women”, was later overturned by the higher courts.
Inside the courtroom, the film genuinely tugs at your heart-strings as the plaintiffs share their painful life experiences. From the retelling of tragic events that took place during their time at the Japanese female labour camps, to exposing old scars from when the Japanese soldiers mutilated their bodies and tattooed them with degrading labels.
Surprisingly, the film is not all doom and gloom. CEO Shin (Sun-young Kim) who plays Moon’s close friend, provides playful humour throughout. As do Soon-nyeo Park, Gwi-soon Seo and Ok-joo Lee, who play three of the 10 victims. Their jovial personalities present a warm-hearted coming-of-age story for the elderly women.
An unexpected plot-twist caps things off nicely.