Kim Ji-young, Born 1982
t.l. Kim Ji-young, nata nel 1982
82년생 김지영 (82-nyeonsaeng Kim Ji-young)
South Korea, 2019, 119’, Korean
Directed by: Kim Do-young
Script: Yoo Young-ah
Photography (color): Lee Seong-jae
Editing: Shin Min-gyeong
Art Direction: Lee Hwa-seong
Music: Kim Tae-seong
Producers: Park Ji-young, Kwak Hee-jin, Mo Il-young
Cast: Jung Yoo-mi (Kim Ji-young), Gong Yoo (husband Jeong Dae-hyun), Kim Mi-gyeong (Mi-sook), Gong Min-jeong (Kim Min-jeong), Park Seong-yeon (Chief Kim)
Date of First Release in Territory: October 23rd, 2019
Premiere status: European Premiere
Over the past decade, few books published in Korea have made a bigger impact than the 2016 novel Kim Ji-young, Born 1982. The story does not seem at first glance to be anything out of the ordinary, centering around a woman who gets married and pursues a career before eventually becoming a stay-at-home mother and suffering from depression. But this ordinary quality is ultimately the point of the novel. Author Cho Nam-joo chose the name Kim Ji-young because it is the most common name among women of her generation, and the events of the book serve to illustrate the everyday prejudice and inequality faced by women as they go about their lives. Although novelists are often taught to bring their stories alive through specific details, Cho's decision to do the opposite ultimately became a strong political statement.
Cho's novel is often described as controversial, but that statement needs a bit of clarification. The book was a huge bestseller, the only novel since Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom (2009) to top a million sales in Korea. Not only that, its subsequent publication in Japan and China was tremendously successful, signaling how much the story resonated in neighboring countries as well. Among most of the population, the book provoked discussion but not necessarily controversy. Nonetheless, South Korea does have highly reactionary, misogynist groups who revel in stoking mayhem online, and who found in Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 a easy target for their hate. So celebrities who admitted to having read the book, for example, found their social media accounts flooded by vicious comments.
Adapting the novel into a film resulted in a few predictable challenges. One was to deal with the expected backlash from anti-feminists, which may for example have affected the casting process. Fortunately, the very popular and talented Jung Yoo-mi stepped forward to take the role, and she was joined by top star Gong Yoo (the two previously appeared together in Train to Busan and also the FEFF Audience Award-winning Silenced). But another predictable challenge involved the screenplay. How would the non-specific, slightly abstract nature of the novel translate into the highly specific medium of the cinema? In many ways it was a challenging novel to adapt for the big screen.
The film version of Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, directed by Kim Do-young, opened in October 2019. Both the online hate and the mainstream interest from female viewers turned out as predicted, with a very strong 3.7 million tickets sold. It ranks as the 7th-highest grossing Korean film of the year, and it also earned several acting honors for Jung Yoo-mi from local film awards ceremonies.
To judge the film simply as a film, apart from the publicity surrounding its release, one can find in it both notable strengths and weaknesses. The lead performance is, in my opinion, the key strong point. Jung Yoo-mi has a long history of bringing her characters to life in a way that few actresses can. Particularly because the main character is presented as having few unique qualities, it must have been a challenge to inhabit the role. Cinematically, it must be said, the film is somewhat plain in its presentation. The more complex structure of the novel, with flashbacks through various points of the main character’s life, was also simplified in the adaptation. The end result, if a bit disappointing for some critics, nonetheless succeeded in creating both positive word of mouth and many new discussions around feminist issues. In that sense it’s an important work of our time that will be remembered.
Kim Do-young has had a long career as an actress, with leading roles in independent films Written (2007), The Day After (2008), and A Bedsore, and supporting roles in The Doll Master (2004), Loveholic (2010), Killer Toon (2013), Last Child (2017), and others. As a director she has shot three short films, including The Monologue (2018) which won nine awards at domestic film festivals, including Best Short Film at the 2018 Seoul International Women’s Film Festival and Best Film in the City of Sadness section of the 2018 Mise-en-scenes Genre Film Festival. Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 is her feature directorial debut.
2019 – Kim Ji-young, Born 1982