Based on the true story of Kang Il-Chul, a comfort woman, the completion and screening of “Spirits’ Homecoming” was a triumph in itself, as you can read here.
The script moves on two axes: The first one takes place in 1943, during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. 14-year-old Jung-min lives a poor but happy life with her parents in the countryside. Her life changes radically for the worse, when she is picked by the Japanese army to act as a comfort woman for the soldiers, as the authorities picked this way to offer relief to the stressed soldiers of the front. As her life becomes a living hell, with the beating and raping being an everyday occurrence, she manages to make friend, Yeong-hee. Eventually, along with some other girls, she tries to escape.
The second axis takes place in 1991, where an older Jung-min works as a tailor. One of her clients is the chief-priest of a temple, where the newest member is a medium, Eun-kyeong. The young girl, who has fallen victim to rape, seems to be able to communicate with Yeong-hee, who did not survive the war.
Two radically different axes
Cho Jung-rae directs, writes, and produces a film, whose two axes could not be any different. In the first one, he depicts the horror of the conditions of the comfort girls’ lives in the most graphic and cruel fashion. The grotesque sense is heightened even more by the almost constant sound of screaming and beatings, as Cho paints Japanese soldiers with the darkest colors, since they act like animals in their overwhelming majority. This recurring theme is exemplified in an artfully photographed sequence, with a panoramic take that shows the terrible things that occur in all of the small rooms in the building, simultaneously. There are some scenes that are quite beautiful, as the ones in the beginning where Jung-min rides in the back of her father’s bike and the one where the girls are sitting over a kind of pond and sing, but the general sense is truly horrific, as it is realistic.
On the other hand, the second axis takes a supernatural approach to the events, through Eun-kyeong, who can communicate with spirits. It becomes obvious that Cho wanted to show that some bonds cannot even be broken by death, but in the process, he hit the reef of sentimentalism, as this part takes an overly melodramatic tone, which, in the end, harms the realism emitting from the first part, and the overall narrating. However, some very beautiful scenes are also present here, with the rituals that take place near a lake, wonderfully depicting both the procedure and the surroundings. In that aspect, Kang Sang-hyup has done great work in the cinematography of the film.
Focus on events not characters
Since the film focuses more on the events rather than the characters, not much can be said regarding the acting. Nevertheless, Kang Ha-na is quite good as she transforms from a happy-go-lucky child to a disillusioned teenager, and Choi Ri is convincing as the traumatized medium.
Cho Jung-rae wanted to depict the inhumane conditions of the lives of comfort women, from their own perspective. In that aspect, he succeeded to the fullest, despite the fact that he lost control of the second part.
The film is distributed by M-Line Distribution