By: Yian Lu
Adapted from a Korean feminist novel, Kim Ji Young Born 1982 is directed by Do-young Kim and tells the story of Ji-young Kim, who gave up many things to become a full-time mum and housewife. In the process of raising her baby girl, she faced many difficulties due to sexism, resulting in her depression. Her husband Dae-hyeon Jung soon became worried as Kim “turns into someone else” and starts to speak like her mother, her best friend who died while giving birth, and her late grandmother.
Despite the story being fictitious, it is highly relatable, especially in a male-dominant society. The name “Ji-young Kim” is also one of the most common Korean names and can thus represent any Korean woman, instead of a particular miserable woman. The much-acclaimed novel, which was written by Nam-joo Cho, sold over 1 million copies within two years of its first publication in 2016. What seemed like an ordinary story was made peculiar with its references to the struggles women face in everyday life, such as the juggling of work and family, priority for and bias towards men over women, and getting looked down upon for not being as capable as men.
Kim is portrayed by Yu-mi Jung, while Jung is played by Yoo Gong. Both of whom starred in the 2016 zombie apocalypse film Train to Busan. Kim Ji Young Born 1982 is actually the third film they worked together, with the first being 2011 drama film Silenced. It also marks the first film the two of them acted as a married couple. Given their chemistry, the characters came to life with a conflicted and mentally ill housewife and a troubled husband who desperately wants to help.
Running at 118 minutes, the movie can be a little draggy. However, it is necessary as it depicts common everyday lives of ordinary yet realistic characters in great detail. The story takes on a non-linear plot with occasional seamless flashbacks to Kim’s younger days to describe her family: a traditional father who dotes on his son more than his daughters; an encouraging mother who does not restrict her daughters; a strong elder sister who became a teacher to support her siblings; a nonchalant younger brother who is forced to do his part in the family by his sister. The film also touches on Kim’s relationships at work and with her in-laws to shed light on the society’s skewed ideals towards female roles.
Kim Ji Young Born 1982 also featured a sensitive sub-topic on mental illness — depression in this case — which often goes unnoticed by family members and even the person himself/herself. Perhaps it is Kim’s subconscious way of dealing with depression, she took on different personalities to take a break from her daily struggles. Upon revelation, one may begin to wonder when did all these happen, just like the devastated Kim’s mother who blamed the patriarchal family Kim grew up in. But what is more important is that we learn to accept the reality and take measures to counter mental illness as an individual, a family, and a society.
Despite criticisms on distorted and subjective views, Kim Ji Young Born 1982 is still worth watching if you want to know a bit more on the kinds of gender discrimination women may face and the impacts they may bring.
Kim Ji Young Born 1982 opens in cinemas on 14 November, 2019 (Singapore).