Vitally important cinema tainted by voyeuristic and uneven film craft, as sexual abuse is uncovered at a rural deaf school
Based on Gong Ji-young's 2009 novel, The Crucible, in many ways Silenced provides one of cinema’s core function – highlighting the plight of the wronged and bringing their woes to the public conscience.
As cinema is the most widely consumed art form in the world, Silenced has managed to not just highlight the real-life events that took place at Gwangju Inhwa School for the hearing-impaired in the early 2000s, but sparked legislative reform to ensure it does not happen again.
It is with a sense of ruefulness to state that despite the praise that the film’s importance deserves, that praise cannot be directed at the film itself. Deeply and unnecessarily voyeuristic, bizarrely edited, and littered with uneven performances, Silenced contains the subtlety of a cartoon anvil repeatedly falling upon your head.
Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo – Finding Mr. Destiny) has landed a new role as the art teacher at Benevolence Academy, a school for hearing-impaired children in the (fictional) city of Mujin, North Jeolla Province. He arrives with his own emotional baggage – his wife has committed suicide and his sick daughter is under the care of his mother.
Despite his new job excitement, the children seem forbidding and despondent. In-ho tries his best to connect with them and when they finally open up he learns they are victims of sickening physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the school’s teachers.
In-ho decides to fight for the children and tries to expose the crimes, teaming up with human rights activist Seo Yoo-jin (Jung Yu-mi – Family Ties, Chaw, My Dear Desperado), but this is a conspiracy which runs deep in this rural community.
Silenced had a difficult assignment from the start. Taking real-life pain and turning it into screen entertainment. Considering it spent several weeks at the top in terms of box office sales, it found its audience. However, it is a film that stacks the emotional pack which seems to have afforded it gentler treatment on its cinematic qualities.
Its voyeuristic elements are deeply problematic, showing several scenes of graphic child sex abuse. This is no exercise in pearl-clutching moral outrage, Korean cinema is all the better for its ultra-violence and confronting content, as the many five-star reviews for such films on this site attest. We are all perfectly aware that child abuse is wrong, so showing us this in all its horror does nothing to further this issue. Instead, it is a cinematic device to shock its audience. Great filmmakers know when to pin your eyes open and when to act with subtlety. Silenced does not.
It is strangely edited, at times appearing to be full of errors as we jump when we should be lingering and lingering when we should be moving on. Elsewhere, some performances are understated to the point of being hollow, others are exaggerated and cartoon-like to the point of being unserious.
This film has changed the world for the better. A shame it is not a better film.