Director: Lee Joon-ik
Run time: 2h 3m
Harrowing and immeasurably powerful, an horrific attack brings a disjointed family together
If the best films make you feel something, then Hope is one of the very best. Even if those feelings are deeply difficult to experience.
Hope is a film that might ruin your day because it is so good.
Based on the true story of the infamous Nayoung Case in 2008 which shook South Korea, it is a tale of how an unspeakable horror bought together a family and its community.
So-won (Lee Re), which means 'wish' or 'hope' in English, is an eight-year-old happily living with her parents Dong-hoon (Sol Kyung-gu) and Mi-hee (Uhm Ji-won), who maintain a snippy and distance relationship, with Dong-hoon more interested in baseball than his daughter’s upbringing.
Then a walk into school changes the lives of the entire family forever when So-won is kidnapped, sexual assaulted and beaten nearly to death by a stranger.
She manages to call the police and narrowly survive the ordeal, with Dong-hoon and Mi-hee left horrified by the extent of her injuries and trauma.
The process of healing Mi-hee both physically and mentally begins while her attacker is arrested and a harrowing trial looms on the horizon.
Child abuse, especially on the scale of the event in Hope, are sensitive topics to wrangle and should never be gratuitous. Considering this is a true-life dramatisation of an actual event, it received its fair share of criticism for even daring to exist on release.
However, Hope does its best to achieve that fine balance of making us understand the scale of the horrific event without recourse to crass imagery.
The film is about more than its central event though. It is about how families can take each other for granted, but can be the ones to fix each other too.
The circle of care extends beyond that too, as a community rallies around the family, offering care and support as they attempt to piece Mi-hee's life back together again.
For some the film may feel overly sentimental, but what pulls the film back from genuinely entering this territory are the three central performances from Lee Re, Sol Kyung and Uhm Ji-won which have the edge to carry what might become an overly soapy narrative otherwise.
There is also an affable supporting performance from Kim Do-yeop, who plays Young-Suk, Mi-hee school friend with a brother-sister bickering relationship with her. It would take a dark heart not to melt at his breakdown for his (unnecessary) guilt at not stopping Mi-hee's attack.
The film was deemed Director Lee’s comeback, after he retired in the wake of 2011 flop, war comedy Battlefield Heroes. Korean cinema is certainly a richer experience for his decision to return to the director’s chair.
Hope is a very difficult watch. For some it will be outright unsuitable. But through the difficulties there shines plenty of what makes the world good too. This is perhaps what makes Hope the film it is – a portrait of that blend of pain and joy of the human experience.
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