Korean Cinema

Since the beginning of time, women have always been a part of the Korean cinema. Nonetheless, they have often been marginalized. The female characters in both white and black films were played by men that were made to look as beautiful as women. Young-Ja's Heyday and Madame Freedom were films that dared to introduce females into cinema.  The female characters in these films were considered a depiction of the Korean society. Unfortunately, the women were depicted in a manner that was condescending and down playing their role and importance in the community.

In films such as Madame Freedom, the women are more bent to be liberated. The film tells the story of a professor’s wife that ventures into.  She works as the manager of a boutique located downtown. She happened to be exposed to smuggled products. Slowly she develops a preference for western goods and has an affair with her boss.


The female characters in the film are a representation of the feminist of South Korea, across a wide range of positions in the classes.  Such included the working class to the affluent and the familial positions such as married and single. Every character has to cope with situations that are morally complicated in relation to romance.  Madame Ch’oe, as well as Son-yong's wife, has been forced to tolerate the unfaithfulness of their husbands. The other characters are forced to settle with different options.

The film puts its focus on the promiscuity of the female characters and expresses the notion of freedom, hidden under sexual liberation.  The show of the kiss scene between the protagonists and her partner gave rise to a lot of controversy which resulted in the film being censured, such as expression of sexuality was not tolerated at that point in time. The post-colonial cinema attempted to address modernity. It was heavily focused on the representation of the modem woman. In such an image, the feminine sexuality is considered to be desirable as well as dangerous. Madame Freedom is more of an object of desire and later punishment, when she decides to masquerade in western-style costume.

The film emphasizes on the fact that when the women depart from the domestic sphere, which is as most of the women in the film are depicted as doing, gives rise to chaos. Son-yong’s best friend, who is Madame Ch’oe, has a husband who is committed to his mistress. She encourages Son-yong to enrol in dance lesson so she can be financially independent from her husband. Son-yong niece is portrayed as a woman that has been westernized.  She is involved with Son-yong neighbour, who tried to seduce Son-yong.  The films represented the sexual independence of woman as well as vulnerability as being inextricable from their status, financial ability and concerns, which are some of the factors that take them from the domestic sphere.

The concept of woman labour and its rightful place is brought up in the early phases of the film. There are opposition forces of the traditional social structures and forces of modernity. The film commences with shots of urban chaotic traffic on a major way, which is followed by one where the neighbourhood is still, leading to the professors home. Son-young is on the floor ironing, while her husband sits at a desk working. He ignores his son who asks for help with homework and says that it is his wife’s work. His wife asks if she can find a job outside the home, but he considered that to be upsetting. As he leaves the home the next morning he sees his wife doing the laundry, and he felt that to be more upsetting than her working outside the home, it is evident that class concerns are more important that the traditional gender roles.

It is apparent the Madame Freedom combines many oppositions such as, urban/ domestic, private/ public, gender and family positions and the socio-historical temporalities. Madame Freedom is a depiction of the nature of the crisis that is facing Korea. For the Korean women, marriage means that they have to forego autonomy, and enter into a contract with their husbands and her family

Young-Ja's Heyday depicts rural innocent ladies that move to the urban centre to look for work, they eventually find themselves being prostitutes or being voyeuristic in the satisfaction of the men’s desires.  It is a love story between girls from small town Yeong-ja and Chang-su. It is clear that the females are exploited by the fames as we come to learn that Young was raped by the son of owner of the steel factory.  The audience is also informed that the main female character known as Gyeongah is pushed by her first love to have an abortion, and soon after he abandons her. The two most important betrayals from the men can be considered as the reason behind the down fall of women. 

The women are captured from the male perspective, which in turn impaired access to the presence of the woman. The technique of the camera is combined with a male voice over as well as fantasies that are told by male characters emphasize that aspect. The story is told from the point of view of the students that raped Young-ja. He is not affected by the order for industrialization. The women are denied their own point of view since the story is narrated from the perspective of the male characters.

The women are depicted as being able to sacrifice. The end of the film only highlights the theme which echoes through the entire film. The original film presented Young-Ja as losing her life in an accidental fire. Nonetheless, the end was changed to Young-Ja marrying a poor man that is disabled, and forsaking her true love. The end of the film is very tragic. She thinks she does not deserve him.

Another element missing in the film is the era of working women. In the 1970s majority of the people are depicted to leave their agricultural lives and make a shift to the cities. It was noted that many women made a move to the capital to join the labour force that was contributing to the goals of the government. The women were put in much harsher conditions and had to make less money in comparison to the men. As such, the women had to face a never-ending struggle to earn enough money. Nonetheless, in the film, there was very little focus on the women, and were only depicted as the hostess women.

The image of the woman’s victimization was used as a trial to allegorize the oppression of the public. The sexuality of the woman was portrayed in manner that was very abusive. Such a tendency could have been related to the political resistance of the military regime. The characterization of the heroine is denoted by the extreme manner of being docile and sacrificial. The women are attacked, exploited and abuse, yet they offer only minimal resistance. Instead they are more willing to sacrifice for the sake of their men. The heroine is noted to make large sacrifices such as leaving home and being a prostitute to support her family.

It is very apparent that the women were exploited in the film, and it moved away from intellectualism. The authoritarian governments as well the young culture were in opposition with each other. They both contributed to a society that was disconnected. The directors fuelled the libido of the public into the vulgar eroticism of the film. The heroine of the film was victimized, exploited and abused. The audience of informed of a lady that lost her arm while at work, which also means her voice. The hostess heroine is willing to sacrifice for her man as well as her family.

The film is different from other movies of that point in time since it’s a reflection of the society at that point in time. The face of Yeong-ja is not depicted in fragments, rather, the films shows her whole face as well as body as deformed, her character seems to be different from the other characters. The story highlights the growth of the population, in addition to the social conditions that resulted in growth. The directors made use of realism to submerge the vulgar eroticism, which was popular at that point in time. The woman was wasted and the obscene nature of the film was supported by directors.

Young-Ja's Heyday and Madame Freedom were films that dared to introduce females into cinema.  The female characters in these films were considered a depiction of the Korean society. Unfortunately, the women were depicted in a manner that was condescending and down playing their role and importance in the community.  The women were an essential part of the economy yet their efforts were down played in both films, and they were only depicted as being hostesses. The essence of the woman went unnoticed as their roles were told from the male point of view. The victimization of the woman is used to show the pain of the public; the women are victimized and tortured yet they offer minimal resistance. Such condescending depiction of woman should stay in the past and woman should be given a platform where they can rise.

Jun 26, 2020 in Research
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