Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Korean Documentary Film: Red Maria

As opposed to movies, documentary films let us into the lives of real people who are featured in it. So when Mi-Hui of the Korea Film Council invited me to the screening of Red Maria, a documentary film, I immediately accepted it! (Thanks again, Mi-Hui!). Real people are more interesting, I guess.

Just like the showing of the Two Weddings, the film started at 8PM, which meant I had to get something to eat from the kiosk before the film started. And that cafe-serving-french-fries-kiosk by the cinema was very convenient.
Red Maria talks about the lives of women in three different cultural settings:  South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. The director, Kyung Soon, followed several Korean, Japanese and Filipino women during the six to seven years of making this documentary in order to show how society treats women and how they face their struggles every day.

From South Korea, the stories of female activists and sex workers; and from Japan, the story of Ichimura, a young lady who calls Yoyogi Park in Tokyo her home; Sato, a lady who was dismissed from her job at a giant corporation;  and Monica, a Peruvian-Japanese lady who helps the local Hispanic-Japanese population with her work. 

Stories from the Philippines are of the family living in Tondo, Manila, living next to the train tracks, the Malaya grannies of Pampanga, the bar girls of Dao, and Grace of Davao, who is married to a Korean man living in the South Jeolla province.

After the film, during the 'question and answer' session, I asked the director about the title of her film, and she said that the symbolism of the color 'red' was not intentional. It was only when people told her that the audience thought the reason why she had that in the title was because of the color of the periodic feminine cycle she mentioned in the film.
          (The director Kyung Soon and 
           her very helpful translator)

She also said that 'Maria' to her symbolizes a perfect woman, an ideal lady in everyone's mind, but she added that she believes the perfect woman doesn't exist anymore, and that's why she made that the title.

In the film, the Malaya grandmothers told of the story that, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the women of the village were brought into the red house by the Japanese soldiers and were gang-raped that day. Those women, who are now grandmothers, said that they didn't speak out after decades of the horrible atrocity because of shame. They were raped, while men of the village were executed before their eyes.

I asked the director how she knew of the 'Malaya grannies'.  She said that a group in Japan told her of these grandmothers, and so, she tracked them down in the Philippines and interviewed them. You should see the film to see how, in their own words, these lolas (grandmothers) endured such unspeakable abuse from the Japanese soldiers. It was an eye-opener for me.

If you have a chance, do watch this documentary. Director Kyung Soon showed me a different view of the society with her 98-minute story-telling. Click this Korea Film Council's link and contact them for future screenings.

As this is a documentary film, and not a movie where actors can detach themselves from the characters they portray after filming, the faces and names in Red Maria are real people, who continue to live their lives after the filming is over.  So, I asked the director whether she keeps in touch with these people who let her in into their homes and their lives. She said she does keep in touch and keeps tracks of them. She said she even spends time with the Japanese lady in her film who has now become a friend when she visits Seoul.

I highly recommend that everyone watch this documentary. For me, it is an education on how people, women in particular, struggle and adopt to a cruel society, which we all help create.
  (I walked to Garuso-gil nearby after the film to catch that night's atmosphere and a cab home.)

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