Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dallas IFF 2013 Review: AZOOMA- Damon's Take

Directed by Lee Ji-seung
Written by Lee Ji-seung
Starring: Young-nam Jang, Dong-seok Ma, and Lee Jae-hee
Synopsis: A mother takes matters in her own hands when the police won't help her catch the man who sexual abused her daughter.

After many years, don't people realize not to mess with a mother? They are the harshest type of people to deal with. “Hell hath no fury..." is always true, but when the woman crossed is a mother, and it involves their kids, you have made a biiiiig mistake.

Such is the tale of Ji-seung Lee's film, AZOOMA (GONG JEONG SA HOE). The story is of a mother (Young-nam Jang) with a little girl who has suffered one of the most traumatizing things that can befall a child. She runs to her celebrity dentist (!) ex-husband for help and support but is met with nothing but attitude on how this will look on his reputation. And the police are not much better. The detective in charge of her case, Ma (Dong-seok Ma), is, for the most part, rather unfazed by the tragedy that happened to the ten-year-old girl. No one seems to care to catch the predator who hurt her baby, so it's up to the woman everyone refers to as Azooma -- a derogatory term in Korea that has recently begun a transformation towards a more positive connotation -- to track down this depraved individual and bring him to any sort of justice. 

A Korean revenge movie is not anything new in the world of international cinema. Some of my favorite Asian films have all been in this category, but there are a couple of things that intrigued me going into this particular picture. One, is the female protagonist. This is not entirely unheard of, but most of the time you're going to encounter a rogue male on a rampage setting a score in a revenge film. So, having it be a mother on the warpath? I'm there. Much more emotion comes from that bond than most anything else on Earth.

Second, is a head-scratching runtime. 75 minutes?! I thought this was surely a joke. I didn't think that Korean filmmakers could tell a story in under two hours. Turns out, this quick runtime was just what the genre needs. A tightly contained tale of heartbreak, frustration, and revenge with little time for anything else. 

The filmmaker also chose to not make this in the traditional narrative form, instead opting for a non-linear format. With the story bouncing around through time like this and repeating certain scenes, you are really transformed into the shattered mind of the victim and voiceless. You relive the rough parts and nothing you think of is in a straight forward fashion. In this format, you learn certain things early on about the tale ,but there is still plenty of mystery to be revealed throughout. 

And don't worry. The revenge aspect is not spoiled in any way. 

Evidently this film is based on a true story from about ten years ago in Korea. Plenty of things are embellished a bit, but under it all is a tale of a mother who reached out for help in any way she could possibly conceive. But everyone turned a blind or corrupt eye to her situation. The filmmakers decided that this was something that happens all over the world, and a subject on which people could definitely use a refresher. Ji-seung does not arrogantly believe that his film is going to have some huge international impact that will change laws and practices, but he hopes that it will get people thinking and stimulate more conversation that could lead to something greater. 

AZOOMA is a fairly different type of revenge film, in structure and execution, but one that entertains and captivates. Young-nam is terrific and definitely deserving of the recent Best Actress award win from a Korean film festival. Hopefully it gets American distribution because this is one that I will surely add to my collection. It is just wonderful how this style of movie can be about some horrible tragedy, but still have you walking out of the experience with an air of satisfaction and some catharsis for what occurred. That is exactly how you will feel as the credits roll here.

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