Director: Kim Yong Ha
Cast: Yu sun, Yoo Oh-seong, Nam Bo-ra, Dongho
RunTime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language and Some Sexual Violence)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://dontcrymommy.kr/?&t__nil_upper_main=homepage
Opening Day: 11 April 2013
Synopsis: Yoo-lim who recently divorced lives with her only daughter Eun-ah. One day Eun-ah gets raped by three of her fellow students at school, and commits suicide. Since the boys were underage, they were just sent back hope after warning. Yoo-lim complains to the officer OH, who is in charge of this case, but there is nothing he could do. Filled with anger that the law is useless, Yoo-lim decides to kill them herself one by one. She follows the first target, PARK Jun, who raped her daughter, to a dark parking lot and hits him with her car and runs off leaving him to die. Officer OH hears the news and tries to find who the next target would be. Meanwhile, Yoo-lim follows the direction to the second target, HAN Min-gu's house texted to Eun-ah's cell phone and finds out that the boys actually video recorded all the incidents to spread them on the internet. Yoo-lim stabs Min-goo and hurries off. Leaving one last target, Jo-han, who Eun-ah had crush on, Yoo-lim goes to his classroom with a knife. Yoo-lim chase Jo-han who runs away to the roof and officer OH follows her. But she puts all her energy to end everything that made her and her daughter's life a living hell.
A standard-issue revenge thriller made more compelling by its hot-topic subject matter, ‘Don’t Cry Mommy’ exploits the grief of a teenage girl and her mother to make an emphatic plea for South Korean lawmakers to relook at existing laws that apply to underage sex offenders (i.e. essentially any teenager below the age of 18). To say that these are inadequate at the moment is an understatement, especially when one considers the gravity of the crimes that have been committed in real-life, and it is precisely because of this relevance that first-time feature filmmaker Kim Yong-han’s movie becomes more than just a piece of entertainment.
Beginning quite innocuously by establishing the key relationship between its main characters – the single mother Yoo-lim (Yu Sun) and her sweet demure teenage daughter Eun-ha (Nam Bo-ra) – the film mirrors the unexpected nature by which such sex crimes occur. There’s little to suggest at the start that we should be wary of the coolly handsome Jo-han (Dong-ho); instead, projecting a quiet confidence beyond his age, we can see why adolescent girls like Eun-ha would be attracted to him. Unfolding pretty much from Eun-ha’s perspective from the beginning, we are led to share in her euphoric feelings for him as well as how they eventually lead to a misplaced sense of trust as she accepts his invitation to meet at the school library’s rooftop one evening.
Unfolding in a three-act structure, the end of the first culminates in a pivotal turn, with Joo-han and two loutish friends - Pak Joon (Kwan Hyun-sang) and Min-gu (Lee Sang-min) – taking turns to rape Eun-ha and film their depraved deed. The second act focuses on Yoo-lim’s fight for justice, rejecting the perpetrators’ parents’ pleas for mercy and pressing ahead for legal action against them. Unfortunately, the judgment of the law ends up favouring the three juveniles instead - not only do the Courts spare Jo-han because Eun-ha had willingly gone to meet him, Min-gu’s escapes without a sentence due to insufficient evidence of his culpability while Pak Joon is sentenced to just two weeks of probation.
No thanks to the lax punishment, all three are soon out before Eun-ha can recover from the trauma, setting the stage for a shocking confrontation that will ultimately claim her life. Distraught and despairing, Yoo-lim takes matters into her own hands in the film’s third and probably weakest act, turning into a vigilante to exact justice on Pak Joon, Min-gu and Jo-han. To director Yong-han’s credit, he does take pains to ensure that Yoo-lim’s transformation is as realistic and convincing as it can be, but the manner in which Yoo-lim tracks down each one of the boys proves to be the film's undoing, relying on coincidences and other narrative conveniences to bring the film to what can only be a tragic and bloody end.
Putting aside an otherwise over-dramatic transformation from grieving mother to vengeful killer, this is otherwise a gripping film that paints a poignant picture of the inadequacies within the South Korean justice system. Though clearly biased in terms of where its sympathies lie, there is no denying the significance of the social message it intends to convey, especially in the wake of a string of real-life cases cited at the end from which this film draws inspiration. Though clearly set up for melodrama, Yong-han deserves credit for never letting the proceedings get too heavy-handed to alienate his viewers, applying nuance and restraint in portraying the psychological impact of Eun-ha’s gang-rape on both herself and her mother.
Absolutely mesmerising in the role of Yoo-lim is Yu Sun, the TV actress demonstrating her versatility throughout the movie displaying a whole range of emotions from shock to grief to determination and finally to resignation. Just as captivating is Nam Bo-ra, whose 180-degrees turn from cheerful girl to withdrawn victim will tug at your heartstrings. Nevertheless, the film is somewhat marred by pop star Dong-ho’s villainous turn, the singer-turned-actor displaying an utter lack of knowledge of emoting, coming off looking just as spaced out in almost every scene he appears.
Yet these flaws don’t diminish the fact that this is a movie that packs a message which deserves to be seen and heard. At least for the first hour, it reflects with great poignancy the seriousness of rape whether or not it is committed by a juvenile as well as the loopholes within the existing justice system. Pity then that Yong-han eschews the social drama for more straightforward vigilante thrills in the final act, losing what momentum its earlier hour had accomplished in order to provide more conventional movie-going excitement. Still, there is gripping stuff to be found here, and if you’re like movies that leave you with food for thought, this one offers a more than satisfying meal.
(Ignore the over-dramatic third act and you'll still find a gripping thriller that packs a powerful social message for its viewers)
Review by Gabriel Chong