차이나타운 (Coin Locker Girl)

A Pollocks Pictures Production
Distribution: CGV Arthouse
Rating: 18 and Over
Genre: Noir
Running Time: 110 Min
Shooting Time: 2014/08/05~10/16 (40 Dates)
Release: 2015/Apr/29

WITH 김혜수 (Kim Hye-Soo) as Mom; 김고은 (Kim Go-Eun) as Il-Young; 엄태구 (Eom Tae-Gu) as Woo-Gon; 박보검 (Park Bo-Geom) as Seok-Hyeon; 이수경 (Lee Su-Gyeong) as Song; 고경표 (Go Gyeong-Pyo) as Chi-Do; 조현철 (Jo Hyeon-Cheol) as Hong-Joo; 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon) as Mr. Ahn; 조복래 (Jo Bok-Rae) as Tak; 정석용 (Jung Seok-Yong) as Mr. Woo;

CREW Director 한준희 (Han Joon-Hee) Executive Producer 안은미 (Ahn Eun-Mi) 조동기 (Jo Dong-Gi) | Screenplay 한준희 (Han Joon-Hee) | Director of Photography 이창재 (Lee Chang-Jae) Lighting 박민수 (Park Min-Soo) Music 장영규 (Jang Young-Gyu) 김선 (Kim Seon) Art Direction 이목원 (Lee Mok-Won) Editor 신민경 (Shin Min-Gyeong) Action Choreography 정진근 (Jung Jin-Geun) 허명행 (Heo Myeong-Haeng) | Assistant Director 이상백 (Lee Sang-Baek)

BOX OFFICE
KOFIC Nationwide
TOTAL REVENUE: 11,986,486,678 Won
TOTAL ADMISSIONS: 1,471,648
BUDGET: 3,000,000,000 Won

Photo ⓒ Pollocks Pictures, CGV Arthouse

IN SHORT

That today's Chungmuro isn't quite taking advantage of the female side of its rather vast talent pool with roles that both challenge its actresses' thespian skills and reward them with a proper canvas to display them is a sad reality – to the point that when you do meet the elusive exception that confirms the rule, such as 한공주 (Han Gong-Ju), it's inevitable that it'll be heralded as a game changer. Even when it doesn't really change anything.

Gender politics is a touchy subject in all of Korean society, let alone in a patriarchal, only deceptively progressive stronghold like Chungmuro. But I think simplistically tossing out the S-word à la Kristen Stewart when dealing with this issue is only bound to misleadingly animate feminists and those opposing them, in an ultimately pointless diatribe that would only be exploited by those who can profit from it, without reaping any fruit at the end for those directly involved. Sexism or lack thereof is not the issue here; it's not about reaching an arbitrary quota of ad-hoc significance, the same way certain countries arbitrarily decide to almost statistically split parliamentary seats to create an entry way for women, in a forced and perhaps only virtual political emancipation. Virtual because representation is handed out to women almost as a condescending token of resignation by the patriarchal male, guilefully asserting that women have caught up to him without truly believing it. But healthy feminism is grounded in realism, not such puffy make-believe that reeks of addition by subtraction. Aiming to reach that significance in an organic, natural and spontaneous way should be its ultimate goal.

In that sense, some might argue that the novelty factor of having Kim Hye-Soo and Kim Go-Eun headline a film delving knee-deep into a male-dominated world like that of the Korean film noir is a spontaneous, natural result of the power that (not just these particular two) actresses today hold in this industry. Implicitly feminist critics like Djuna took quite a liking to Han Joon-Hee's “experiment,” rightfully pointing out that with such gender dynamics at play, the film immediately gains a certain freshness. It's true: with no need for our female protagonists to flex their machismo-drenched muscles in a display of alpha male bravado, Han manages to keep violence somewhat grounded in logic and realism. It's brutal, uncompromising and sometimes even excessive, but definitely never tries to go for glamour. Certainly a welcome change of pace for a genre that has long been stalling – save for occasional sparks of bravura, like 신세계 (New World) and 범죄와의 전쟁 (Nameless Gangster). Noir, especially in a Korean context, has long neglected women, more often than not reducing them to flower vase status.

But whatever freshness this film gains in terms of gender dynamics, it eventually loses in genre sensibilities: nihilism is a longtime staple of the noir genre, but the “chiaroscuro” ambivalence and moral mist it conjures should never be misconstrued as a dehumanizing factor; it's the other way around. Kim Ji-Woon's brilliant 달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life) takes advantage of it in a rather simple but tremendous effective way, even though Shin Min-Ah's character might be mistaken as a flower vase: Hee-Soo is a lot more to Seon-Woo (Lee Byung-Heon) than a pair of pretty legs and a charming smile; she's light that can't help but shine in the pitch dark bleakness of his life (hence the rather one-dimensional characterization she is subjected to).

Nihilism and the proverbial spark that should provoke an escape from it here become an artificial mood-creating mannerism instead, quickly rendering the characters immersed in it nothing more than cardboard cutouts. The fact that with female characters on top there is no need for macho action is certainly novel and intriguing, but that “deglamourization” doesn't lead to the feminine touch that could perhaps have set Il-Young and Mom apart, it instead completely dehumanizes them – to the point that when Il-Young shows hints of humanism, like with Seok-Hyeon, it feels so manipulative and phony as to elicit laughter. It doesn't help that Kim Hye-Soo is not exactly a subtle performer: it's no use trying to present the unglamorous exterior drenched in nihilism your character supposedly demands, when your every acting pore tries to exude sex appeal and manufactured charisma. Young prodigy Kim Go-Eun does marginally better, but this is not the kind of role that can test her tremendous potential.

And that's the point… it doesn't matter if it's a leading role that potentially changes the dynamics of an entire genre, if it doesn't bring anything significant to the table. The fact this film doesn't live and die by the usual pitfalls associated with the genre (over-the-top macho posturing and the glamorous “sashimi ballet” that comes with it) is a welcome starting point. But then nothing this film does gives any meaning to the fact that it's two women on top, instead of two men – eventually rendering Han's supposedly innovative experiment nothing more than a gimmick only good for marketing, and to pander to the hopes (or, perhaps more fitting in this case, fantasies) of gender emancipation both actresses and viewers harbour.

That's what is still trapped inside those coin lockers, the will to make change that doesn't reek of opportunism.

ACTING GRADES

70 김고은 (Kim Go-Eun)
70 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon)
65 김혜수 (Kim Hye-Soo)
65 정석용 (Jung Seok-Yong)
61 엄태구 (Eom Tae-Gu)
60 조현철 (Jo Hyeon-Cheol)
58 이수경 (Lee Su-Gyeong)
57 박보검 (Park Bo-Geom)
55 조복래 (Jo Bok-Rae)
54 고경표 (Go Gyeong-Pyo)

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