Jeong-Sun Review: Sensitive Korean Revenge Porn Drama

Jeong Sun 01 main

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A factory workers quiet life is destroyed by a video in Jeong-Sun

Jeong-Sun is the debut feature from Koreon director Jihye Jeong. Tackling the subject of the growing incidence of cybersex crimes and ‘revenge porn’ in South Korea, it is partly inspired by the real like ‘Nth Room’ case. A real investigation and trial into a man who illegally shared sexually explicit images of over 100 unknowing victims to tens of thousands of people via the telegram app chat service. It inspired a change in South Korean law that formally criminalised sharing sexually explicit content without the subject’s consent, even if they had consented to it being created in the first place.

Jeong-Sun (Kim Guem-Soon) is a middle-aged factory worker. A firebrand who likes to argue with her insolent young boss, she is well liked amongst her group of female friends and is looking forward to the wedding of her only daughter. It is clear immediately that the factory is a hotbed for gossip, where there is a growing divide between the older entrenched workers and the young people who show up to do seasonal work. Jeong-Sun and her friends gossip that the younger girls flirt with the boss to get easier jobs.

When new worker Yeong-Su (Cho Hyun-Woo) starts at the factory he and Jeong-Sun form a secret relationship. They are similar in age and both single so while there may outwardly be no scandal in this, the younger workers engage in ageist gossiping about them. After constantly being disrespected by his boss as being ‘too old to be doing anything interesting,’ and feeling desperate to fit in, Yeong-Su shares a semi-naked video of Jeong-Sun. It rapidly spreads around the factory and goes viral in their town, leaving Jeong-Sun humiliated and embarrassed.

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Kim Choi Yong Goon and Cho Hyun-Woo in Jeong-Sun
Kim Choi Yong Goon and Cho Hyun-Woo in Jeong-Sun

A naturalistic character study that centres Jeong-Sun at the centre of this disaster, the film refuses to give any time to the perpetrator, seemingly attempting to return some of the agency she has been robbed of. It’s a very strong central performance from Kim, who must portray the utter break down of a once confident woman. Seeing her go from loudmouth to mute is a painful watch. It’s refreshing too to see a film of this kind centred around an older woman, with too many (including some characters in the film) assuming that crimes of this nature only affect the young.

The female relationships in the film are particularly strong, with Jeong-Sun’s friends and daughter rallying around her in the wake of the video. The suggestion of solidarity and support amongst women as the antidote to a misogynistic world is a wholesome one.

Cho Hyun-Woo and Kim Guem-Soon in Jeong-Sun
Cho Hyun-Woo and Kim Guem-Soon in Jeong-Sun

All the same, Jeong-Sun feels like the safest possible version of this story and I wish it had taken a more extreme approach. The video that circulates does not seem salacious or interesting enough to actually go viral. The police are supportive and able to easily investigate and the perpetrators willingly admit the offence. It all just feels too tame when there was the opportunity for a much more realistic i.e difficult story here.

The pacing is also a bit all over the place. Whilst the runtime isn’t particularly long, it feels like it takes an age to actual get to the incident that is the main purpose of the film. It then meanders again for too long before slotting in an abrupt, ever so slightly more dramatic ending.

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Still, Jeong-Sun tells a worthy tale that is both timely and interesting to follow. Director Jeong has created a strong script that is brilliantly executed by her lead actor and it all leads to a satisfying conclusion – even if I do wish there had been more drama. A sensitively told, socially conscious story.

Jeong-Sun was reviewed as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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