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Helpless

Hwacha

Byun Youngjoo adapts Miyabe Miyuki’s famous novel Burning Train to Korea and does it proud: when a young woman disappears suddenly, her fiancé launches a desperate search – and makes some shocking discoveries.

Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.

Helpless

  • Director-Screenwriter Byun Youngjoo
  • Producer Shin Hye-eun, Oh Kimin
  • With Lee Sunkyun, Kim Minhee, Cho Seongha
  • South Korea 2012
  • 117 mins
  • Sales CJ Entertainment

Previously best known for her docs on the Korean ‘comfort women’ prostituted in the Pacific War, Byun Youngjoo here adapts a celebrated mystery-thriller novel by Miyabe Miyuki and does it proud. Likeable young veterinarian Munho is driving his fiancée Seonyeong to meet his stern father when she abruptly disappears at a motorway rest stop. Munho later finds her apartment ransacked and feels sure she’s been kidnapped. The police are no help, so he persuades his ‘difficult’ cousin (a former cop who left the force under a cloud) to investigate. But the closer they get to the missing woman, the more elusive she becomes. They find themselves rethinking old deaths as possible murders, wading through financial scams, and, eventually, approaching some horrifying conclusions. Byun’s hard-edged feminism shines through the snaking plot: this is ultimately the story of a victimised woman. But it gets all the male stuff right too.
Tony Rayns

Director statement

The novel takes place in Japan in the 90s after the economic bubble collapsed. The most challenging part was to make a film version which takes place in contemporary Korea. But the things that the novel talks about, such as problems with private loans, bankruptcy and credit rating still exist in our world. That’s what’s scary [...] One thing I wanted to talk about with this movie is the idea of self-pity and how it can eventually drive one to commit evil deeds. Sun-young is certainly absorbed by it. Once you start to feel that you are in the worst situation in the world, you become ruthless toward other people. You begin to think it’s all right to harm others in order for you to survive [...] I met up with Miyuki Miyabe, the novel’s author, in Japan. She and I shared similar views on a lot of things. We both agreed that it’s for our readers and viewers to decide and form opinions about the Sun-young character. I brought a DVD copy of the film with Japanese subtitles and handed it to her. I thought she deserved to see it ahead of everyone else. She sent three e-mails expressing how much she enjoyed the film. It certainly meant a lot to me. She said she’d like to see the film being released in Japan as well.
Byun Youngjoo

Director biography

Born in 1966 in South Korea, she graduated with a law degree from Ewha Womans University and did her graduate studies at the Department of Theatre and Film at Chung-ang University. A founding member in 1989 of the feminist film collective Bariteo, she initially worked as a cinematographer on Even Little Grass Has Its Own Name (Kim So-young, 1989), a short film about gender discrimination at work, and My Children (Doe Sung-hee, 1990), a documentary film about childcare in a poor neighbourhood. Her first documentary Women Being in Asia (1993) focuses on sex tourism on Jeju Island. Best-known for her subsequent trilogy documenting the present and past lives of ‘comfort women’ who were abducted and forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army in WW2, she has seen her efforts lend a significant push to the women’s demands for a formal apology and compensation from the Japanese government, while still drawing praise for their aesthetic and emotional power. She has since made, at feature-length, the erotic drama Ardor and the coming-of-age romance, set in the world of ballet, Flying Boys. Her new film Helpless is based on the Japanese novel All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe.

Filmography

1993 A Woman Being in Asia
1995 Najeun moksori (The Murmuring)
1997 Najeun moksori 2 (Habitual Sadness)
1999 Sumgyeol – Najeun moksori 3 (My Own Breathing)
2002 Milae (Ardor) [fiction]
2004 Ballet gyoseubo (Flying Boys) [fiction]
2008 Ten Ten [doc; ep The Wise Way to Remember the 20th century only]
2012 Hoa-cha (Helpless) [fiction]
All docs unless stated.

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