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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Madonna"

2015/08/01

Hae-rim (played by Seo Young-hee) gets a new job working at a VIP medical ward. This is a terrible job, you see, because rich people are terrible, what with always expecting complete subordinate obedience and also blow jobs. Hae-rim is disgusted, but she has debts, so what's a woman to do? Later on Hae-rim gets involved in the mysterious case of Mi-na (played by Kwon So-hyun-I). And it's here that Hae-rim learns the terrible secret of life which she mostly already knew- that all men are rapists.

I'm only being slightly facetious here. Going over the multitude of male characters the only ones I'm reasonably sure haven't raped anybody are some of the doctors, the comatose old guy, and maybe the investigator Mi-na briefly runs into before deciding to make yet another terrible decision prompted by her passive personality. "Madonna" is the kind of movie that starts out with a woman being led into grisly, degrading prostitution, then somehow makes white collar work seem like a worse alternative.

Nearly every single scene in "Madonna" either involves Mi-na being degraded somehow, or Hae-rim coming to appreciate that all life is nothing more than degradation. And yet bizarrely enough, somehow the overall message is one of hope. By the end, I was completely at a loss as to how life for the sake of life was supposed to be at all a reassuring message. What's the point of even trying if we all either turn into rapists or rapees?

In case you haven't figured it out yet, "Madonna" is rather tremendously depressing. I hesitate to really seriously criticize the film on those grounds, because this was obviously the point of the story. And for that matter it's not like anything which happens is all that unrealistic. Prostitution is real. Beauty standards are real. Sexual harassment is real. Emotional abuse is real. Class differences are real. It's just, piled altogether like this, the veneer of general misery comes off rather thick.

Thank goodness for the cinematography, I guess. Looked at strictly in plot terms "Madonna" is mostly just a melodrama- it's the cinematic direction that appears to uplift the storytelling to a higher plane of existence. I write "appears" because try as I might I'm having trouble looking at this film as anything except rolling around in the muck for the sake of rolling around in the muck. But it's very appealing, realistic looking muck, for what it's worth. The sound design was pretty good too.

For all this, though, what I ultimately found lacking in "Madonna" was any kind of obvious purpose. There's no takeaway here that can be easily applied to the real world. Naturally, "don't rape people" and "don't be a doormat" are pretty good life lessons to go by. If you already know that much, though, then all you're really going to get out of "Madonna" is that everything burns to a horrible crispy death under the sun and then it's reborne, and that's supposed to be uplifting somehow. Maybe that's enough for some of you, but I wasn't terribly impressed.

Review by William Schwartz

"Madonna" is directed by Shin Su-won and features Seo Young-hee, Kwon So-hyun-I, Kim Young-min and Byun Yo-han.

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