What I Learned…from Han Gong Ju

What I learned from ‘Han Gong Ju’

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There are just some movies that stick in your head for while. Sometimes they’re good; sometimes they’re bad. This is definitely one of the good ones, but not one to be watched by just anyone.

The whole movie follows the titular character, Han Gong Ju—a high school student—around as she deals with her shattered life, picking up the pieces only to have it shattered, quite possibly, irrevocably again by the end. It is tragic and sad and sometimes jarring. The underlying dilemma that she is picking the pieces up from is rape—and not just any rape, but gang rape done by some forty boys over a long period of time.

Though this movie could easily stun just for that, there is much more. The director presents a fractured story, jumping from past to present, never delving too much into the rape but only enough so we understand and feel the full horror of it. But again, the rape isn’t the worst part.

The boys that raped her come from high position familes—sons of police officers and government officials. These boys are the successors to the town. When Han Gong Ju (strangely and literally meaning ‘One Princess) opens up about the rape, the parents of her attackers blame her and harass her until she is forced to leave.

Sound unrealistic? It’s not. The movie is based on a true story that happened in Miryeong—a small way stop of a town in the southern part of Korea. Worse of all, it only happened roughly twelve years ago. This is not something in the distant past. The true victim is still alive and barely an adult as she was in middle school at the time.

Above all, this movie highlights for me the division of rich and poor. These boys got off with no punishment. Although the country was outraged afterwards, the police in the town made sure to bungle everything up so completely that no proper case could be made against the boys. The following attack from the government against the police did little as well. The damage was already done.

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Here in Korea, as it is in any country, the rich make the laws. Following my viewing of this movie, I was informed that rape, here, usually only comes with a maximum three year jail sentence, if that. This irked me until I remembered something else. Korea uses surveillance cameras to delve out speeding tickets to offenders. It does so by taking a picture of the front of the car and then mailing the fine with the said picture to the offender’s house. However, before the picture is sent out, it is made sure to have the passenger side seat chopped off, you know, just in case the wife picks up the mail that day only to find her husband speeding in the car with another woman. Males hold the power here, and the males are rich.

And it’s no different in America. We may have made great strides in gender equality, but our legal system is hardly fair. Drunk driving is barely punished in many states, while auto theft garners a long jail term. Which do you consider more dangerous—vehicular manslaughter or the stealing of tons of metal? And why is there this discrepancy? Because rich people tend to drive drunk. The underprivileged steal cars.

In the end, it seems, the rich always look out for their own, no matter where you may live. And for this reason, Han Gong Ju lingers in my mind, if not devastates it.

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2 thoughts on “What I Learned…from Han Gong Ju

  1. Damn. You bring up points I have preached to anyone who will listen. I’m always called a crazy feminist (like feminism is an insult) or a Conspiracy theorist. But, your damn right. There are laws for the rich and laws for the poor. Rape culture is real and alive. It’s a disturbing fact. As a mother of a daughter I look into her tiny face and I hope more than anything the world will be better when she is grown. I have more respect for you as a person and an author after reading this. Thank you for pointing these things out and validating their existence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the thing too: this movie isn’t graphic. It’s not meant to unnerve you with disturbing images. It gets under your skin knowing she’s the victim, yet the whole system looks to her as the perpetrator. If anything, I feel frustrated. I hope others do, too.

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