Kang In-Ho is a newly appointed teacher at a school for the hearing-impaired in Mujin city. While teaching the hearing-impaired students, In-Ho feels something strange about the kid’s distant appearances. On his way home, In-Ho notices one of his students Yoo-Ri sitting on the ledge of her dorm room window, which is several stories above ground. He rushes into the dorm building and makes it into Yoo-Ri’s room to pull her away from the window. Yoo-Ri then leads In-Ho to a door down the hall and stops. In-Ho goes into the room and sees the superintendent of the dormitory beating a male student named Yeon-Doo. In-Ho is shocked by the brutality and eventually takes Yeon-Doo to the hospital. In-Ho also makes a phone call to Yoo-Jin, the lady from the huma rights center who bumped into him earlier, and asks her to come to the hospital. Soon, In-Ho and Yoo-Jin uncover unfathomable actions committed by the school’s faculty against the students. Their work to break the children’s silence is only beginning. Meanwhile, In-Ho feels his own pressures to stay silent as his new job already cost his family their home’s deposit money and medical bills are piling up for his daughter.
Based on the controversial novel by author Gong Ji-young comes the equally controversial film The Crucible by director Hwang Dong-Hyuk. Dealing with perhaps one of the most taboo subjects within cinema—child sexual abuse—the film examines the physical, psychological, and social aspects that stem from such mistreatment. Deriving from a true case of the sexual abuse of students at Gwangju Inhwa School in 2005, the film reignited public outcry towards the unfortunate episode that took place nearly a decade ago. With such a serious subject at the helm, The Crucible handles its material with considerable attention towards showcasing the true horrors surrounding the sexual abuse of minors—an approach that is both daring and disturbing.
Director Hwang Dong-Hyuk doesn’t shy away from showcasing just how horrific sexual abuse truly is, while also suggesting the corrupt power structure that keeps such a hideous act from ever reaching the eyes of the public. Gong Yoo does a fantastic job here as Kang In-Ho, a character that is deeply divided in speaking out in risk of losing his job at the school. What’s certainly surprising to see here is Gong Yoo taking such a serious role considering his previous roles have mostly been either romance or comedy films. He handles the frustration of his character’s dilemma quite well, including Kang In-Ho’s concealed past that is slowly unveiled throughout the course of the film. What is perhaps the strongest performances of the film though are the of abused children. They carry the weight and purpose of the narrative, with their emotional displays of rage, despair, and hope remaining the driving force of the film. On an emotional level, the film really provides an outlet to view the plight of these characters and their rather dire predicament.
With the first half of the film showcasing the rather tragic and heinous acts perpetrated by the school’s staff onto the children, the second half is delegated towards the public exposure and legal proceedings that transpire. Here the film examines another controversial facet of society—that of the legal system. With the testimonies of the children, parental support, and public denouncement, the film elaborates on the social injustice that can—and most of the time does—take place within the confinement of the court system. Not only are the children’s testimonies not taken as seriously as the adults due to their deafness, but even the political implications that arise from faulty testimonies and career climbing are brought into the fold. Here we see the secretive dealings that take place to cover up the truth even after its been exposed, with attempts for the defendants to diminish its impact upon their social status and the community as a whole.
The Crucible is a film that is both deeply impacting and socially relevant. While the showcasing of sexual child abuse is disturbing—and in some instances, rather graphic—the film is one that is able to produce an authentic emotional response from the viewer. The film isn’t a joyful experience in the sense where one feels cheerful after viewing it, but rather it raises social issues that are important to address. Is the South Korean legal process detrimental to children, especially one’s with a handicap? How do we discuss the notion of child abuse within our schools? These questions and more are raised within the film, making its impact all the more powerful. With strong acting from Gong Yoo—and its cast of young actors—The Crucible may be difficult film to digest, but it’s one of impressive courage in terms of the difficult material it covers.