Even though it’s been past a month since I watched the movie 도가니 The Crucible, otherwise known as Silenced, my mind’s still heavy as I write out what’s been on weighing on my heart whenever I think about this story– a mixture of grief-stricken pain, shock, despair, and an ever-escalating amount of disgust at the social injustice in the world.
Before I continue, let me say that if you haven’t watched this Korean movie yet — which was based on book that was inspired by a true story — you should watch it. However, before you check this movie out, you should probably know that 1) your life will never be the same again after you see it, 2) you probably won’t be able to sleep at night for a while, 3) it will change your perspective about life and what kind of society you live in, 4) it’s probably not something you can rewatch while eating KBBQ, and 5) if you don’t want to have your personal life-is-all-jolly-and-wonderful bubble popped, don’t watch it. So I guess it’s not a movie for everyone, even though I wish it were.
Ready to have your world turned upside down? Here, hold my hand because it’s going to be a crazy, bumpy ride from here on out.
(I’m writing this recap based entirely off the top of my head, so forgive me if my memory got a bit hazy near the end.)
A widower left with a sick daughter, Kang In Ho (Gong Yoo) is hired as a new art teacher at a school for the deaf in Mujin, after being recommended to the post by his art professor from college. On the day that he drives into this fog-shrouded city, he crashes into a deer, killing it instantly. In a parallel scene, we see a boy of a young age standing on the railroad tracks, where he’s killed when a train comes by.
After the run-in with a deer, In Ho takes his car in for repairs. It’s there that he meets human rights activist Seo Yoo Jin (Jang Yumi) when she accidentally crashes into his car.
When In Ho arrives at the school, he meets the principal and director of administration. The two are identical twins and the latter asks that he pays 5 million won ($5,000 USD) as a “mandatory teacher’s fee,” aka a bribe. Despite knowing that he absolutely cannot afford to pay this “fee,” especially with his daughter needing surgery for her poor health, he calls his mother (Kim Ji Young) to wire some money into his account. He eventually finds out later that the money came from her deposit on her house. Sad, yeah.
From the outset, In Ho senses that things are out of place, though at this point he can’t quite put his finger on it. On the first day of class, three of his students — one boy and two girls — pique his interest, and all three are unresponsive to him when he greets them, shying away from his presence. Out of the three is a boy named Min Su (Baek Seung Hwan) who has evidence of a violent hand on his face, and causes In Ho some concern. The other two are friends, Yeon Doo (Kim Hyun Soo) and Yoo Ri (Jung In Seo), who stick to each other like glue. It’s also notable that Yoo Ri’s constantly eating.
After work, he researches about these three students in the staff office, and finds out that the boy and one of the girls have mentally handicapped parents, while the other girl is an orphan. He’s also told that Min Su’s younger brother had run away and died. (This was the boy seen earlier in the movie.)
As he’s leaving work late at night, he hears the screams of a girl coming from an upstairs bathroom. When he reaches the bathroom door, he asks if the person inside is okay. No one responds, but before he can open the door, the night security guard, who has also heard all the commotion, stops him.
It’s noticeable that In Ho senses that something is drastically wrong within this school, but he internally tells himself to brush it off. The next morning, he sees one of the teachers repeatedly punching Min Su. Although other teachers are present, none attempt to stop the brutal physical punishment. In Ho intervenes, and while the teacher does stop beating Min Su, he also doesn’t fail to comment that In Ho’s a new teacher that doesn’t know all the rules within this school, blah blah blah. Inferiority complex, much? It’s crap that we’ve all heard before in the professional realm.
That same day, when he gets off work in the afternoon, he sees Yoo Ri sitting on the edge of a window sill on the second floor in the dormitory. He dashes upstairs and finds her room, pulling her away from the window. She’s terrified of him and doesn’t initially understand that he was worried that she would fall. When she realizes that he doesn’t mean her any harm, she tugs on his shirt and leads him to the entrance of the dorm’s laundry room, where she leaves him and scurries away.
He unexpectedly finds the headmistress of the dormitory inside, where he’s shocked to see that she has Yeon Doo’s head inside the running washing machine. He demands an explanation and receives a cool reply from the headmistress, who says that Yeon Doo is getting her well-deserved punishment. By now, In Ho’s enraged — having already experienced physical abuse earlier that day — and threatens to use all his resources to see that she’s punished, if she should so attempt to do something like this again. Yeon Doo collapses and In Ho rushes her to the hospital. He calls up Yoo Jin, the human rights activist he got into an accident with, to help him deal with the cases of physical abuse.
Through Yeon Doo’s written testimony, the two discover that night that not only have the students been physically abused, but the school’s principal and teachers have also sexually molested them as well. Two other such victims include Min Su and Yoo Ri. The three students had originally tried to report the incidence to the police, but were only dragged back to the school.
As Yoo Jin calls her human rights team to help, each of the children eventually open up about their abuse through sign language. In Ho becomes their translator as each child gives a horrifying account of what’s been done to them in front of a video camera. It’s traumatizing for everyone as all relive the accounts of the abuse.
Most affected is probably In Ho, who finds out that Yeon Doo was the girl screaming in the bathroom during his first night of work. She had tried to thwart off the sexual advances of the principal by locking herself in the bathroom, only to have him find her. It dawns on him that he was only a door away from experiencing a child being molested, and that he had cowardly walked away that night instead of intervening to help. Deep down, he knew he that he should have demanded that the door be opened, regardless of the outcome.
No longer can he turn a blind eye to the tragedy before him, so he becomes actively involved with their case, career be damned. He becomes a father-figure for all three children, wanting to carry their burdens on his shoulders. The testimonies of the children are broadcasted and receive a lot of media coverage. When the day of the trial arrives, In Ho and co. are prepared to present evidence against the school and its administrators. With the media covering the trial and the support of others, it looks as if the Bad Guys will get their well-deserved fate.
But this is just the beginning.
Little do they know that the battle in the court would also be full of political shenanigans, for the assailants hire a defense lawyer that’s the senior judge in the same courthouse. Since the school administrators and teachers are so esteemed in their community, they gain the support of church members and those in high positions (more like bribed), while those who suffer from a physical handicap rally themselves around the children.
Yoo Ri is the first to testify against the principal for raping her. She describes, in gruesome detail through sign language, how the principal lured her with candy into his office and then taped her arms and legs to a table and raped her.
The judge calls up a doctor to the stand. This doctor wrote up a medical report about Yoo Ri’s sexual health condition prior to the trial. The prosecutor asks her why she wrote up two medical reports about Yoo Ri and not just one, particularly when the two reports contain contradictory information. Everyone in the courtroom is jarred by this news, and the doctor herself is perhaps the most affected. She admits that in her first report, she found that Yoo Ri’s hymen broke at a very young age, around seven or eight, and she couldn’t believe that someone that young could be engaging in sexual activity. So she wrote up a second report because she doubted her examination.
Though it’s mentioned in the courtroom that a girl’s hymen can break from masturbation or from a strenuous physical activity such as horseback riding, no one’s thinking that because of the current sex scandals. The prosecutor also brings into light that she’s a member in an alumni association that the principal’s wife is the head of. So it’s like she corrected herself because she knew that this involved the principal, whose wife exerts a great amount of authority in her alumni association, and that her medical report could result in the potential consequences of backlash and censure from the professional community.
What’s sad is that during this entire scene, Yoo Ri is trembling so much that she later ends up peeing in her pants as she has to relive the traumatic events all over again while she recounts her tale. Seeing her in the state that she was in made me want to reach out and comfort her, as if I could break the boundary between the movie screen and real life.
The next day, Yeon Doo is called to give her testimony and it gets angsty in the courtroom real quick. She’s asked to identify her molester, since the principal and the director are twins. She’s given permission to approach them and to peruse them closely. She looks at each and does a motion with her hand across her throat, careful to note that one of the twins does respond to her sign language. Yeon Doo points at the man across the farthest right and identifies him as the principal. Although the twins don’t know sign language, the principal would always make a motion across his hand whenever he molested her, which meant, “If you tell anyone about this, you’re dead.”
And she’s right, for the man she identifies is the principal. A hush of silence washes over the courtroom as Yeon Doo also tells the judge that she saw the principal on the night that he raped Yoo Ri.
The defense is quick to realize that they might lose this case, so they pull out their big guns and appeal to the children’s relatives. They “reach an agreement” with the relatives aka force them to sign papers in return for money. Therefore Min Su can’t testify and tell his part in the story.
What’s even more heartbreaking is the night when Min Su learns the news that he can’t share his side of the story in the court because his grandmother “forgave” his abusers. He was inspired by Yeon Doo’s testimony and wanted to practice his lines so that he could do well, but his face crumples when realization sinks in that he’ll have to remain silent. He tearfully yells at In Ho, the bearer of such ill news, “How could she [his grandmother] forgive them when I haven’t forgiven them yet? How could she do that?” He continues, crying, “You promised me that you’ll bring the bad men to justice. You promised me! Now tell me, how are they being brought to justice now?”
With no words left to say, In Ho grabs Min Su and holds him tightly. ARGH I WISH I HAD SCREENCAPS FOR YOU ALL BECAUSE THIS SCENE JUST ABOUT KILLED ME.
Despite recent obstacles in the prosecution side, and as a last attempt to salvage their side in the trial, In Ho and Yoo Jin try to find one last piece of evidence that could convict the principal. From Yeon Doo’s testimony, they know that he molested the girls in his office. They enter the school and search through his office, where they obtain the security camera that recorded everything. This was the missing piece that they’ve been looking for that could be a turning point in the trial.
Happily, they present the disk to the prosecutor, who promises to show it to the judge privately before the court’s ruling is announced tomorrow. That piece of damning evidence is good enough for the Bad Guys to get the punishment they deserve, and the Good Guys to get their happily ever after.
On the day of the ruling, In Ho and the children enter the courthouse with a sense of nervous anticipation and hope. The judge announces that the assailants are guilty and for a fleeting moment, everyone is overjoyed. But then they hear the sentence, and that same happiness comes crumbling down. Because basically the criminals got off scot-free. After that, it’s completely chaotic in the courthouse — on one side the criminals laugh and congratulate themselves, with church members singing hymns of praises at the news; on the other, the children and their supporters wail in the background.
In Ho and Yoo Jin look at their prosecutor with righteous anger, enraged with the understanding that he ended up choosing to not fight for justice and was bought by the other side. The prosecutor is entirely nonchalant as he leaves the courtroom, never once turning back to face those he betrayed in order to attain a higher spot on the social ladder.
The criminals hold a party in celebration at a noraebang (karaoke place). It turns out that the defense’s lawyer had promised the prosecutor a job at his firm and as for the judge, he was bribed. In Ho and Yoo Jin come home to find a note from Min Su saying that he’s off to get revenge on his molester. In a frenzy, In Ho runs off to find him.
Min Su is waiting by the railroad tracks when the teacher that molested him, now completely buzzed, passes by. The teacher sees him and with glee, asks him to join him at his house tonight. You sick, sick bastard. God, I’m not an advocate of violence but during this scene I really wanted to punch his face until he turned into a pizza.
Min Su stabs him in the gut with a knife just as a train toots nearby. With the train fast approaching, he pins the teacher down to the tracks underneath his body. In Ho arrives at the scene and sees the danger of the situation. He tells Min Su to hurry to safety and calls out his name, but Min Su stays put, refusing to budge with determination. That’s the last we see of him, because the train comes and kills him instantly, along with the teacher while In Ho watches, completely devastated.
The next we see is a rally and demonstration against the court’s decision. Volunteers protest and cry out for the court to bring the wrongdoer’s to justice. The city’s police team try to get the people to leave and when they don’t, start hosing them down with shoots of water. During the maelstrom, In Ho steps out from the crowd carrying a framed photo of Min Su. He cries out, not caring whether anyone’s listening, that an innocent, abused boy died because of this incident. He’s eventually hosed and brought down to the ground by a police officer, and the photo frame he was holding onto shatters into pieces.
Months later, In Ho’s working somewhere else in another city. He receives a letter from Yoo Jin, who writes to update him about the children’s well being. She writes that they’re continuing to fight for justice for the children and that there are others in the community who lend a helping hand. They tried to repeal the court’s rulings, but were denied. Still, she and the children are happy. She wishes him well and writes that they hope that their paths will cross again as they continue to fight against the social injustice for the handicapped.
First off, there’s no way I could ever write something that would do this movie justice. But hey, I tried.
I think this film had such a huge impact on viewers like me because everything in the story felt so real. Granted, we know from the get-go that this movie is based off of real events that happened back in Korea but more than that, it’s like the movie took us back in time and showed us, scene-by-scene, what exactly happened years ago. As a viewer, I was an outsider looking into the whole picture, yet I also felt like a witness at the scene, a bystander that could do nothing except to watch the events unfold in front of me.
I love In Ho because he’s awesome and so relatable as a human being. Despite getting caught in the midst of all this tragedy, he grows as a character as opposed to collapsing under the pressure, and he earns our respect in return. He doesn’t compromise his morals and beliefs, even when tempted, but continues to seek justice for these students of his. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t face the temptation to turn away from these children and this cause. It makes him all the more human in my eyes.
There are a few scenes that I didn’t recap because I either forgot where in the story it occurred or because it was too graphic. One included a scene where In Ho’s own art professor, the one who recommended him for the job at the deaf school, invites him for dinner. What his art professor didn’t mention was that the defense lawyer would also be present. There at dinner, In Ho’s offered the bribe money that he paid at the beginning of the movie, and a little more to pay off his daughter’s medical expenses. The defense lawyer also offers him another guaranteed teaching position at another school.
This is a moment where In Ho really struggles with himself because it would be so easy to just take that money and use it for his own benefit. He could not only pay for his daughter’s surgery, but he could repay his mother and pay off the deposit on a house she wanted. All he had to do was to accept the money, though doing so meant that he would give up on fighting for the children.
He directly contrasts with the other characters in the movie because he doesn’t give into the temptation and social pressures from others in his professional world. It certainly wasn’t easy for him to say “no,” because after he left that meeting, we see him taking out his frustrations and anger at the parking lot, where he punches the windows of his car repeatedly until it breaks. In Ho struggles with fighting for the oppressed and the physically handicapped, yet he still ends up focusing on one thing and one thing only — to see that those who did wrong get the punishment that they deserve.
Another is when In Ho’s mother tries to convince him to stay out of the trial, berating him for standing up for these children when his own child is sick at home. I loved loved LOVED In Ho’s response: “If I don’t fight for these kids, I don’t think I can be a father to my own daughter.” Later in the trial, we see his mother evolving as a person too. When it dawns on her that these children have been wronged and that her son is the one protecting them because no one else would, she then pledges him her full support and lets him do what he needs to do. That part in the movie made me bawl. Heck, this entire movie made me cry.
One other thing that I love about In Ho is that, time and time again, whenever he’s told that he’s done so much for these children, he always responds in turn that they’re wrong — he hasn’t done much to help at all. He says this not because he’s modest, but because he’s referring to the fact that for most of his life, he’s been ignorant; turning a blind eye whenever he encountered social injustice in the world. Yes, he’s also experienced personal tragedy with the loss of his wife and is currently facing financial woes, but he’s never gone through the hell that comes from physical and sexual abuse.
Initially, he almost gave in to complete ignorance. He let the principal and the other administrators tell him that these hearing impaired kids weren’t competent and that they were lesser human beings because of their physical handicap. What really gets to me is seeing reality settling in, and how he responds to that.
I talked a crapload about In Ho because he did have the biggest role in this movie, but without the sublime acting from the children and Jung Yumi, it would’ve just been a one-man show instead of a masterpiece. Each child really breathed life into their characters and I honestly have no idea how they pulled it off. They were incredible. I love each child in the movie, but my favorite has got to be Min Su, who I think is the most complicated out of the three.
While writing this recap a month after watching the movie, I still cried when I got to the part where he was told he couldn’t testify and during the last moments of his life. That was just utterly tragic, and his sorrow was completely palpable during the entire movie. His death really affected me and shook me up, since I wanted to believe that he’d get a happy ending because he deserved one. Kudos to Baek Seung Hwan for his phenomenal performance. I’d write more about their acting, but I think it’s something people should actually see, instead of just hearing it from me.
The Crucible may arouse our sympathy from its tale, but it should be noted that that’s ultimately not its goal. What makes it such a powerful movie is how it portrays the story as it is. No weepy, over the top dramatics to up the ante — the drama doesn’t need that because the plot takes a life of its own; it becomes the reality we’ve all tried so hard to push away.
This movie was as much about In Ho’s maturation as it was about the children’s painful journey of abuse and how they responded to that. Yet just because they were abused doesn’t mean that they weren’t able to overcome adversity and live their life happily afterwards. Though these children may be silent because of their physical handicaps, they cannot — and can never be — silenced by the society that rejects them. Because whether the world realizes or not, they still have a voice, too. And that’s all that matters.