Thursday, September 13, 2012

CinDi 2012: Masquerade (가면놀이) 2010

Part of MKC's Coverage of the 6th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival.

Let me get this right out of the way first, this is NOT about the brand new Lee Byung-hun period pic of the same title which came out in Korean theaters today. My timing may not great, but so be it.

I knew Masquerade was a documentary and based on the one still that was attached to it in the CinDi program. I assumed it had something to do with pantomine or some sort of performance. To say that I was way off the mark would be something of a cataclysmic understatement. Nestled among a crowd of mostly young women, I grew somewhat uncomfortable when the narrative revealed itself to me for the first time. You see, Masquerade is a hard-hitting film about child abuse in Korea and how it is often ignored by society at large.

Anyone familiar with Korean cinema will have noticed how prevalent sexual abuse is in its narratives, it is often directed towards small children and it is almost always covered up. It is a societal ill that is collectively ignored. Korea is leapt into the future as its economy has boomed for nigh on 25 years but social change can’t evolve at the same speed and it still lags behind. Countries like the US, UK and France are by no means social utopias, but in some respects, Korea still lags behind. Of the many films produced that tackle the issue, some have things to say while other are merely exploitative, but there has been a few recent productions that have really upped the ante. One is Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010), which I won’t say anymore about for fear spoiling it, and another is one of last year’s most unexpected hits, Silenced (2011). A historic film that actually brought about legislative change and prompted a real national dialogue on the topic of abuse that goes unpunished, Silenced was something of a game changer and perhaps one of the reasons behind the renewed interest in a project like Masquerade which initially screened in Busan two years ago.

The film mostly focuses on a support group for mothers of child abuse victims, which I found a little strange at first but it didn’t take long for the reason to sink in. The fact that they have acknowledged the abuse and are actively (if anonymously) trying to doing to something about it is very significant. For many of them, it was the husbands who committed unspeakable acts and for the most part they are free. The pressure from the families and the fear of dishonor outweighs the need for punishment.

Outside of this core group of protagonists, filmmaker Mun Jeong-hyun attempts to apply a macro lense to repressed masculine sexuality in Korea and while this exposé is at times interesting, shocking and clearly demonstrates the existence of a major societal problem, it doesn’t really shed light on anything. It opens a dialogue to be continued by someone else. Masquerade doesn’t offer any solutions, it merely shows us what’s out there. Given the limited potential for this film outside of film fests, the problem is that Mun is preaching to the converted. Masquerade is a hard-hitting documentary but ultimately it doesn’t give us any more food for thought than we already had, and thus is feels like a missed opportunity.


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