Sunday, February 21, 2010


하모니 (Harmony) is a tear-jerking movie playing in the theaters. Koreans love the sad movies, particularly women, as the sad has been a long-term engulfing emotion of Korea due to the history of being a "shrimp in a line of whales", basically a weak little country between a line of stronger countries that have invaded her fertile womb - her land and stolen her women - in her long 5000-year history. And yet, though sad movies are popular with the female population, it is not necessary to reserve a seat ahead of time as guaranteed last-minute watchers can always get a couple seats together somewhere somehow in the theater to wring a tear, but don't expect such presumption and spontaneity for a thriller or action movie.

Though Hamoni in the hangeul-ized 'harmony' and is named so for its musical story, the title is really a near homonymic play on words with 할모니, halmoni or grandmother, as the story centers around a young woman with her baby in prison and a compassionate grandmother-type who shares her cell. In fact, four women share the cell but the movie only portrays why the young mother, the grandmother-type, and a new cellmate are in prison. The young mother was there for inadvertently killing her husband in self-defense when he was kicking her and her soon-to-be-born child. The new cellmate also was a victim of husband-abuse and accidentally killed her husband with a statue-blow when she was being physically abused. As for the grandmother-type, in a rage of passion she ran over her husband (and his lover) after discovering him cheating on her.

Some strong residual Confucian values lie superficially buried in the society as portrayed by this movie. Basically, women were (and even now, frequently by law, are) to be dominated by men, women were (even by law still are) to remain faithful and virtuous while men have cultural leniency to go philandering. And if women, even unintentionally, kill in their self-defense, the law does not allow for such circumstances. And yet for this movie to even make the screen, Christian principles within the society are apparent.

Confucian principles were for the nobility, the strong, the man while Christian principles required attention given to all humans, women included, the suppressed and the weak as all men (and women) were created equally. This movie then evokes the Christian ethos as women have been the suppressed and downtrodden of Korean society, and even today to some extent as is seen through legislature. The movie depicts women as weak (or weaker than men at least according to law) and yet the viewpoint about them is not judgmental but rather from their point-of-view for the audience to identify with their predicament, their sadness.

Christian ethos focuses not on patriarchy with its emphasis on male lineage and honor to the most aged man but embodies patrimony with its father figure (or mother figure in the movie) protecting the young. Women are the nurturers and the child, even the adopted child which has been shunned in the past, is to be nurtured. In fact, at one point in the movie the child born in prison was desperately ill and the mother, in order to take him to the hospital, had to be handcuffed. With her nurturing love, she accepted her fate but the attitudes in the emergency room of parents protecting their children from seeing the criminal and the child of a criminal and the doctor's casual joking and slighting looks even now speak of a society that still labels people on a heirarchical scale as outcasts, allowing no compassion for them or their circumstances. However, by the director addressing the criminal women's circumstances from an insider-perspective and for people to respond with sniffles throughout the movie, it is obvious that the traditional society of patriarchy is being supplanted with patrimonious compassion for those who would previously have been just labeled, and then shunned accordingly.

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