Scars (2009)– Korean Title: 흉터 Romanization: Hyoongteo. Directed by Im Woo-sang. Starring: Park So-yeon (as Seon-hee), Jeong Hee-tae (as Sang-yeob), Yoo Ye-in (as Seon-hee’s mother), Seo Yeon-soo (Yoo-jin) and Jeon Hyeon-sook. Running Time: 64 minutes. Original Release Date: October 13, 2011. Available on DVD: Yes
Scars is an emotionally intense film for the very fact that very little emotion is depicted on screen by any of the characters. Everyone of the three main characters is seething with emotions just beneath the skin but lack the ability or courage to express what they are feeling. The main character is Seon-hee. From a distance, she seems to have a perfect life. She has a successful career as an illustrator, she is married to a popular news anchorman making her the envy of the women around her and her mother is recovering well from a recent stroke. But despite her finacial and social success, there is something eating away at her. We learn that it has been three years since she has been intimate with her husband, the relationship she has with her mother seems oddly distant, and Seon-hee is haunted each night by strange dreams involving a smiling Buddha’s face. The image of this face seems to follow her into the waking world as well and Seon-hee starts to see it in the most unexpected places.
One thing we also notice about Seon-hee is that she neither smiles nor frowns. In fact, she does not seem to have normal human emotions at all. The distance that seems to have built up with her and her mother extends with every other relationship in her life. It is telling that she is tasked with drawing a picture book for children with emotional problems in order to help them come out of their shell and express what they want. Our illustrator is quite skilled at making images for others, but she cannot break out of her own head. At one point she tells her husband, “There is nothing I want” but the very next scene betrays that declaration. She has wants, desires and dreams but she suppresses them and does not let them out. This internalization of her feelings is having a serious effect on her health.
Her husband is not much better off in expressing himself. He appears, for very different reasons, as emotionally cold as Seon-hee. Sang-hyeob compensates for this by striving for perfection. And in doing so, he comes across as an obsessive-compulsive. He goes through the same motions day after day, lining up his wallet, phone, keychain and watch in a row and straightening them until no flaw can be found. He brushes his teeth several times in succession using different sized toothbrushes, and spends hours reciting the same line again and again after making a mistake on the air. He is uncommuncative with his wife and it takes his mistress to finally break the news to his wife that he has been invovled in an affair for the past six months. His complaint against his wife is that he always “strives for perfection” will turn out to be ironic indeed.
Seon-hee takes to visiting her mother more often and although she does not reveal her personal crisis, she seems to take pleasure in being with her. As a result of recovering from her stroke, her mother has turned to Buddhism and has taken up Buddist art as a form of mediation and healing. However, she carries her own scars, quite different from the scars carried by her daughter and son-in-law. Hers are based on regret, most especially for how she treated her daughter as a child and why. Her quiet revelations in an attempt to find inner peace, explain to the viewer precious details in explaining Seon-hee and the reasons behind the way she is today.
The director makes ample use of the color yellow in dreams and scenes that represent memories. They are beautiful, quiet and intense, especially after the mother’s confession. The results of that single line from the mother makes subtle but marked changes in Seon-hee and the way she reacts to her husband.
I enjoyed this movie very much and wished it had gone just a little bit longer as I liked the direction it was heading and wanted to see it through to a decisive conclusion. I was however, very much surprised to find that I seem to be in the minority in my opinions. Looking at the user ratings on Daum, I was shocked that the average rating was around 4 out of ten, with many users giving the film two or less stars. I found it to be quite enjoyable. There is deep meaning to be discovered in many scenes and I liked that I had to work to find it as it is often not readily apparent. I loved the pacing of the movie and I loved learning that there was much more going on beneath the surface of the characters than we can know from dialogue or even from their actions. It is like knowing someone only from work or school and then learning something a little more intimate and personal about their lives. By the end of the movie, I liked all three of the main characters.
A short, quiet movie that has the potential to spark conversations after viewing. I would strongly recommend seeing it, though the pacing and reserved conversations will probably put off people who require a lot of action and expository dialouge.