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[Guest Review] "Norigae"

2014/01/10 | 2760 views | Permalink

Although sort of an open secret, sex bribes within the South Korean entertainment industry have more recently become an indictment, not just on the industry as a whole, but on South Korea's treatment of women in general, particularly those in showbiz. How entertainment, and the desire for fame by the young, are unconsciously entwined with the power structures of big business and politics still seems, at least from a non-Korean perspective, to be a last vestige of one the misuses of Confucian morality. However, little seems to have changed for women's rights with the exposure of the issue, with sex scandals and first hand accounts of abuse popping up constantly. The latest was the Open World Entertainment scandal, in which the CEO of the company was arrested on alleged charges of sexual assault of his performers, two of them underage, and even using his power to intimidate the male singers employed by his company to assault female trainees. It seems only natural, then, that there would be filmmakers ready to ruminate on this sensitive issue with the local audience.
The director for the film "Norigae", Choi Seung-ho, claims that he drew inspiration from the Jang Ja-yeon scandal of 2009. Jang Ja-yeon was a popular actress from TV, starring in the show "Boys over Flowers". She had just embarked on, what many believe would have been, a productive film career, when she was found hanged on a railing inside her apartment complex. While this was perhaps not a rare decision for women in her profession, the key comparative difference in her case was that she had a clear wish to haunt her persecutors from the grave. She did this by keeping a seven page journal with names and dates of all those involved in her abuse. (Note: The journal has since been judged as a forgery by the courts of South Korea). The journal alleged that she was forced by her manager to provide sexual services to studio execs, directors and CEOs in return for the promise of future career advancement. In "Norigae"'s narrative, Jang Ja-yeon is represented by Jeong Ji-hee (Min Ji-hyun). Most of the story takes place in court, where prosecutor Kim Mi-hyeon (Lee Seung-yeon-I) brings claims against Jeong Ji-hee's agent, director and their CEO, with allegations that Jeong Ji-hee was forcibly brought to meet the CEO by her agent to perform these 'services' and was subsequently groped. Initially, Mi-hyeon gets nowhere as witnesses willing to support a dead woman's account are hard to find. The entire prosecution, therefore, relies on the existence of the diary of Jeong Ji-hee, which no-one seems be able to find or, for the authorities covering up after themselves, claim didn't exist at all. Lee Jang-ho (Ma Dong-seok) enters the story at this point as the key player in the whole saga, being the only reporter dogged enough to hunt down the diary. Of course, the plot is helped along by the fact that, having been acrimoniously fired from his post with a popular newspaper and relegated to an online news company with few staff or viewers, Jang-ho can't sink much further down the social ladder of South Korea, where status is everything.

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