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[New on the scene] Director protests middle-aged women's loss of name

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 23, 2024 - 15:10

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Director Jeong Ji-hye (The Coup Distribution) Director Jeong Ji-hye (The Coup Distribution)

Director Jeong Ji-hye, 29, depicts in great detail an ordinary woman in her 50s in her feature film debut “Jeong-sun.”

The concept was based on Jeong's year-long experience working part-time at a food packaging factory -- the same setting where the protagonist Jeong-sun works and faces an unexpected event.

“While working at the factory, I became close with many middle-aged women who worked there. I could hear their life stories and about the environment they were in,” Jeong told The Korea Herald in an interview on April 11.

Jeong said she wanted to protest society’s treatment of women in midlife and how they are rarely called by their given names.

“Jeong-sun is a common, humble name that many older women have, with the word ‘sun’ describing someone with a docile personality. Given such a name from birth, many middle-aged women grew up amid society's bias that expected them to have a mild temper. My screenplay shows Jeong-sun as a woman who is rarely called by her given name. She's 'imo' (auntie) at work, 'eomma' (mom) at home and 'ajumma' (a casual term for a middle-aged woman) when she’s out. That was part of my protest against such framing by society,” Jeong said.

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

The movie follows Jeong-sun who develops a secret romantic relationship with a colleague Young-soo (Cho Hyun-woo). She soon falls victim to a digital sex crime when a short video clip taken by Young-soo that shows Jeong-sun singing and dancing in her underwear is circulated.

Jeong said her role as a director is to shed light on the marginalized by matching them with unlikely keywords.

“The way I choose the topic of my work is to mix the two unlikely keywords. My previous short film also put a young woman and a shaving razor together. This time, I put a middle-aged woman and a digital sex crime together to break the preconception that such crimes only target young women,” Jeong said.

“While doing research for the film, I learned that digital sex crimes are not an issue targeting specific age groups,” she added.

The movie, even before its release in Korea, garnered critical acclaim abroad.

It 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 said such triumph as a rookie director was possible all thanks to the actors.

“Other than the global interest in seeing the reality of digital sex crimes, I’m sure that it was the actors who pulled the audience (to the movie),” she said.

Kim Geum-soon, who played her first-ever lead role in “Jeong-sun,” has appeared in numerous hit projects as a scene-stealer. The charismatic shaman who heightens the conflict between a sleep-deprived couple in Cannes-invited thriller “Sleep” is one example.

“I first saw her in the short film ‘The Way Back’ (2014), where she showed very realistic acting as a mother. But at the same time, she didn’t lose the character's charm. At first, I wrote that Jeong-sun was a woman in her 60s but changed it to a 50-something woman after chatting with the actor. It was a movie that had to be led by the actor throughout the entire running time, so I trusted her,” Jeong said.

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

This article is the 19th in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.