27th October 2009
I was not sure what to expect when I saw that EBS was airing the awkardly titled Spinning a Tale of Cruelty Towards Women. On the one hand, I was excited that I was given the opportunity to see a movie I had never watched before. On the other hand, it is from my least favorite period of Korean film-making. The early eighties were an unfortunate time. Although some of the restrictions that had hampered directors in the previous decades were being relaxed, the filmmakers were taking advantage of this by filling thier movies with overtly sexual imagery–whether it was necessary for the story or not. In small doses, it is fine–in larger doses it becomes funny…but when it is overdone, it just becomes uncomfortable. The first 30 minutes or so of this film had me wondering if I would be able to get through it. Phalic-shaped rocks dotted the landscape and women made use a giant wooden morter to grind grain while giggling suggestively. Not to mention the main character was raped twice in about ten minutes. However, I stuck though that part and my patience was rewarded with a surprisingly well-told story—particularly the final chapter.
The story can basically be divided into three parts. The first chapter finds our heroine, Gil Rye given to a wealthy family to take part in a ’spirit wedding’. By that I mean that she is wed to a man who has been dead for years since a soul was believed not to be at rest if the person died a virgin. The living half of this type of couple was expected to behave as if his or her spouse was alive. That means that Gil Rye, a widow before she was even married, was expected to remain chaste. She proves to be up to the challenge and does her best to impress her in-laws who, in return, set her up in a beautiful home with many servants. The problem comes from a lecherous man living nearby who realizes that Gil Rye’s house is inhabited only by women. He begins to make nightly visits to Gil Rye’s room and she finds that she is powerless to stop him fro raping her. However, the man is seen leaving the house by Gil Rye’s father-in-law who sets a trap for the rapist.
Although, Gil Rye is clearly not responsible for what happened, she is thrown out of the house. This is actually an act of mercy on the part of her in-laws who could have enacted a much more extreme punishment. Left to her own devises, Gil Rye wanders the countryside for awhile until she meets Yoon Bo. Yoon is the son of a fomerly wealthy family who has had their titles and property removed. He is now working as a common laborer for a rich noblemand and Gil Rye finds herself working a serving girl there. The two fall in love but their feelings for each other are threatened by the nobleman who seeks to bed Gil Rye.
After an event that could have turned quite tragic, Yoon Bo and Gil Rye seem to have at last found peace. With his title and wealth restored, Yoon formerly marries Gil Rye with his parent’s approval and for a short time things seem happy. But this is not destined to be and in the final years of her life, Gil Rye is doomed to suffer some of the hardest emotional trials anyone could be asked to bear.
This film was directed by Lee Doo-yong whose action movies of the 70s I have always found to be competent if uninteresting. He seems better suited for melodramas. Lee has remained active right up until 2002 when he tried his hand at a remake of Ariang… (Which hasn’t been released on DVD….I wonder why?) The lead actress was Won Mi-kyeong who does an excellent job in the first and final chapters of Gil Rye’s life. She seems to slip in the second chapter however. I was actually unsure for a little while if her character was meant to be the same person or not. While playing the serving girl, Won makes Gil Rye almost a comic relief simpleton–quite at odds with the dignified lady of the earlier and later chapters. I got the impression that perhaps the middle portion of the movie was filmed first and Won was not yet familiar with the story.
In any event, despite the title and a few problems with the story, Spinning a Tale of Cruelty to Women is a very watchable movie and worth the 100 minutes it takes to watch it.
On a quick side note, I am still upset with EBS TV for blurring out knives, blood and cigarettes on their late night movies…but I am also happy that they are branching out a little and now including movies from the 80s and 90s. Next weekend they will be screening Green Fish. I will skip it as I have it on DVD, but it is an excellent chance to watch this film if you have not already seen it.