Hope

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, and Views Are My Game.

The words “rape movie” and “heart-warming” don’t typically mesh well together. And yet, somehow, Lee Joon-ik’s Hope, a film about an 8-year-old girl named So-won getting raped and beaten, manages to be uplifting, rather than depressing. The reason it is able to is simple; it does not show the rape. People talk about it, and we see the victim after the event all bloody and bruised, but there is absolutely no onscreen violence in this film. Instead, the movie focuses on how a victim and her family can recover and rebuild after such a horrible calamity. It shows the protagonist undergoing therapy, both mental and physical, it shows the stages of grief, guilt and gradual acceptance that her community progresses through, and it shows the acts of kindness that people show her to make her feel whole again. It is a beautiful movie about kindness, love, and healing, and it truly surprised me.

Now, before I go on, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I hate rape. I hate it more than murder. I hate it more than torture. To me, rape is the absolute worst thing that can happen to a person. You’re taking something that is fundamentally positive, sex, the act by which new life is created, and through which couples can make each other happy, and perverting it. You’re making it violent. You’re destroying something that is as sacred as life itself. And it sickens me that my country has decided to elect a man who brags–BRAGS–about raping and sexually assaulting women. Words cannot describe how disgusted and ashamed I feel. Rape victims in America are already treated terribly enough, with people often claiming that they “asked for it,” and politicians doing everything they can to eliminate access to women’s health care. But now, more than ever, I feel like rape victims will face an uphill battle to get the assistance and recognition they need. Because if a man who openly brags about raping people can get elected president, what’s to stop every sick pervert out there from openly indulging in their depraved, violent fantasies?

Rape in film is also something that I detest. As a screenwriter, I give myself certain rules while penning a script. One is no rape, or violence towards women. That rule came about after I realized that a shockingly high number of films use rape as a plot device to motivate male heroes to action. Death Wish, A Time To Kill, Gran Torino, Last House On The Left, I Saw The Devil, The Equalizer, all these films use the rape of a female character to convince male protagonists to fight the villains who hurt these women. And while it is usually cathartic to see the rapists get their just desserts, a disturbingly common trend in all these films is to disregard the victims’ trauma. Very rarely do we, the audience, get to see these victims experiencing PTSD, going through therapy, or having emotional and social problems. More often than not, they get raped, the hero sees them all beat up and hurt, he goes on a killing spree, and maybe, at the end, we get one shot of the victim in the hospital, or smiling and acting happy again. But that’s not how it happens. Killing a rapist doesn’t instantly make their victim feel better. In many, if not all cases, the victims are emotionally and psychologically scarred, and they are fundamentally changed for the rest of their lives.

That’s why I like Hope so much. It doesn’t write off the victim’s trauma. It explores it. Literally the entire film is about So-won, her family, her friends and the community at large confronting what happened to her, and trying to heal. It shows her experiencing PTSD. It shows her going through therapy. It shows her having emotional and social problems, especially with her father. It doesn’t reduce her to the level of “male character’s possession that was damaged and now needs to be avenged.” No. She is a person, with thoughts, and interests and feelings, and she is trying to recover from a horrific event. And I love the movie for that. It treats its subject matter with the maturity and respect it deserves.

So, even if you hate seeing rape in movies, as I do, I really think you should give Hope a look. It’s well-acted, well-written, and it treats its source material with the respect it deserves. It’s an 8 out of 10.

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Born From Blood And Tears: A Review Of Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Someone once asked me why I wanted to make films. At the time, I didn’t quite know how to respond, and so told them something about a life-long love of story-telling that I hoped to nurture into adulthood. This answer wasn’t entirely true, even I could see that, but it seemed to satisfy the person in question, because they never brought it up again. It did not, however, satisfy me. For weeks after that encounter, all I could think about was why I wanted to be a filmmaker. Honestly, what was the reason? Was it the attractive prospect of fame and fortune? Was it the incessant need to be in the spotlight? Was it an unconscious desire to foist my philosophies and political views on the world? Night after night I pondered this weighty quandary, but never managed to produce a satisfactory answer. And then, when I had all but given up on my search for the big “why?” it came to me. I wanted to write screenplays because I wanted to tell the story of the human animal. I wanted to examine every aspect of our souls, our hearts, our minds. I wanted to dissect the things that drive us, the things that most of us go our whole lives without knowing. I wanted to create works of art that were profound, but also entertaining enough, to help us understand what it means to be human and to make this bizarre, beautiful, and at times brutal, experience of life a little bit easier. What I wanted, in short, was to make films like Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man.

This 2013 British-Australian drama tells the true story of Eric Lomax, a Scottish soldier who was captured and tortured by the Japanese during World War 2, and his search for reconciliation with Takashi Nagase, the Japanese interpreter who oversaw many of his torture sessions. Blessed with stunning visuals, a gorgeous color-scheme, a highly lyrical soundtrack and stellar performances from its stars–Colin Firth, Hiroyuki Sanada, and their younger counterparts Jeremy Irvine and Tanroh Ishida–The Railway Man is easily one of the most powerful films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. It’s not just that it tells the story of a period of history that I have a personal connection to and that’s often overlooked, it also gives each of its characters an enormous amount of depth and anguish. Too many war movies these days focus solely on the experiences of one side and how the conflict affected them afterwards. Such pictures completely ignore the fact that war is demeaning to all of its participants–to both the torturers and the tortured, both the victors and the vanquished. We might not like to believe it but, in war, there are only victims. The Railway Man captures this phenomena perfectly. Both the British and the Japanese are shown as suffering severe PTSD following the war. You never get a sense that one group is “the good guys” or that the only means of closure is revenge. Even the torture scenes, which are beautifully shot in spite of their brutality, showcase the discomfort of both parties. The picture’s success in demonstrating this is due, in large part, to the performances of Firth, Sanada, Irvine and Ishida. Whenever you hear Irvine scream out in pain, you never get the feeling that he’s exaggerating or putting on a show. When you see Firth confront Sanada after years of regret and anguish, the former positively simmering with rage, the later a broken shell attempting to make amends, you believe every syllable of their dialogue. It would have been too easy for either man to fall prey to melodramatic cliches, for one character to come out as the clear moral superior, but both actors manage to display the ambiguity of their real life counterparts with breathtaking precision. If the Academy doesn’t choose to honor either Irvine or Sanada with at least a nomination for best supporting actor, I’ll be seriously disappointed.

Now, of course, as with all works of art, The Railway Man has its fair share of flaws. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie, which introduces us to Lomax following the war, are very slow, and resemble a romantic comedy for middle-aged people. I understand why the director chose to start off here–he wanted to illustrate that, even after all these years, Lomax, a likable everyman, is still haunted by his experiences,–but still, it took me a while to get into the movie. Likewise, the scenes with Nicole Kidman are just plain awful. I was kind of surprised by this, since most mainstream critics said she was the best thing in the movie, but the fact remains, her character is flat, she lacks any back story, and to be honest, I really found Kidman’s acting to be rather annoying. Finally, the film doesn’t hesitate to take some serious liberties with history. First of all, in real life, Eric Lomax was a proud Scottish patriot. In the movie, he’s portrayed as being English. Second, when Lomax and Nagase actually met with each other all those years after the war ended, it was to find some closure and reconciliation. In the movie, its set up as though Lomax went seeking revenge, but had a change of heart and chose to forgive his former captor. And thirdly, in real life, Lomax was married at the time he met Nicole Kidman’s character. The movie never bothers to discuss this first marriage, and instead sets Lomax up as a sad, lonely man who never was able to find love after the war.

Yes, The Railway Man is far from perfect, but these imperfections just make the movie’s brilliant moments shine all the brighter, and I would love it if more pop-corn chewing audiences would go and bask in this brilliance. I can’t believe I’m saying this but, I’d give the picture a 9 out of 10. It’s perfectly paced, flawlessly acted, and beautiful to look at. And on top of that, it tells a truly inspiring tale of suffering and reconciliation and, honestly, who wouldn’t want to see a thing like that?