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[Herald Review] Ordinary woman in midlife ‘Jeong-sun’ shatters preconceptions

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 14, 2024 - 14:07

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“Jeong-sun” (The Coup Distribution) “Jeong-sun” (The Coup Distribution)

In director Jeong Ji-hye’s debut feature film, drama “Jeong-sun,” Jeong-sun (Kim Geun-soon), a woman in her 50s lives an ordinary life with her busy daughter following the death of her husband. Feeling that it’s better to do something rather than stay at home, Jeong-sun works at a food packaging factory where she gets along with her colleagues.

At work, she develops a secret romantic relationship with a newcomer, Young-soo (Cho Hyun-woo). That relationship leads her to fall victim to a digital sex crime via a video taken by Young-soo that shows Jeong-sun singing and dancing in her underwear.

Unbeknownst to Jeong-sun, the video spreads quickly, seen not only by her colleagues but also by people at her daughter's workplace. Everyone laughs about the plain-looking older woman dancing in her underwear.

Through the unlikely combination of a women in her 50s and a digital sex crime, the film bluntly portrays Korean society’s dark and ugly biases against women in midlife, who are often viewed as insignificant.

“Many people believe that digital sex crime only happens to young women living in the city, but that stereotypical viewpoint isolates certain groups of people. Through this movie, I wanted people to have a more mature perspective,” director Jeong told reporters following a screening on April 5.

The movie also focuses on the stories of other marginalized groups in Korean society, such as blue-collar workers.

What makes Jeong-sun’s monotonous job more miserable is the arrogant attitude of her younger boss towards her. The twenty-something male manager treats most of the factory's workers as if they were inferior to him, and gives the better jobs to his friends or younger female workers.

The movie, capturing manufacturing workers’ reality, is based on director Jeong Ji-hye’s personal experience.

“I spent a year on a packaging line where I saw many women in midlife – who were non-regular workers (without job security) – getting mistreated by younger bosses at the managerial level. And that’s not something we see only see in factories, but in many blue-collar workplaces around the world,” director Jeong said.

Despite the harsh reality she is forced to confront, Jeong-sun doesn't simply hide or run away. As a mother and factory worker, she puts it behind her and starts her day again.

To convey the mood of Jeong-sun’s constricted life, the director used minimal lighting and maximized the use of familiar places that evoke marginality: a dark, old motel room; the long and narrow living room of an aging apartment; a changing room in the corner of the factory.

The movie has won eight awards at international film festivals, including the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actress Award at the 17th Rome Film Fest in 2022.

“Jeong-sun” opens in local theaters on April 17.