Title: Kim Ji-young: Born in 1982
82 Nyeonsaeng Gim Jiyeong (82년생 김지영)
Director: Kim Do-young (김도영)
Duration: 118 min
Cast: Jung Yu-mi (정유미), Gong Yoo (공유), Kim Mi-kyung (김미경)
Kim Ji-young (Jung Yu-mi) is a 30-something South Korean female. Just like most women of her generation in South Korea, Ji-young went to college, and studied hard. Graduated, got a job, worked hard. Got married. Had a child. Became a stay-at-home mom, working hard to raise her daughter well. She seems to be a perfectly average, hard-working human, leading a perfectly average, somewhat comfortable life for a South Korean woman – she even belongs to a solid, middle-class family. But what many (conservative) people would perceive as picture perfect, starts showing major cracks early on. At odd moments, it seems that Ji-young gets ‘possessed’ with her grandmother or her deceased friend – she speaks to her husband, to her in-laws, and even to her own mother, as if she is not herself.
This of course worries her husband Jung Dae-hyun (Gong Yoo), who loves and cares for Ji-young very much. It is made known to the viewer that he is not one of those (Korean) men who easily make inappropriate comments about women or join infamous chatrooms where they share questionable contents. Dae-hyun tries hard to take an active part in his family life and struggles when it becomes apparent that Ji-young herself does not realize that there is a psychological issue at hand – Dae-hyun is even the one who first visits the psychiatrist, to get help for his wife.
Through flashbacks, we slowly start to put the broken puzzles into their place: sexual harassment in teenage years, with victim-blaming coming from a parent, no less. Witnessing sexual harassment at the workplace, of the ‘hidden toilet camera’ type, where instead of raising hell, the situation is dealt with on the down-low, because it is deemed shameful to women. Living in a reality where instead of harsh prosecution of such acts, the women discuss how to prevent becoming victims themselves, like that is their duty. Being denied promotion by a (female!) manager because the system is wired to push forward employees who will not get pulled away or lose focus due to getting married and having children.
In the current time, Ji-young has to suffer younger, working people who deprecate the so-called mom-roaches – mothers who stay at home and dare to visit public, urban places with their ‘loud and messy’ kids. When she tries to find a way back to a progressive existence, she faces a wall of steady pressure from the older, conservative generation, for whom the role of a woman is very clearly defined. The issue is systemic enough to involve not only men, but women as well; and even worse: it is a mentality that has infiltrated and rooted itself in families. Ji-young’s own father showers her brother with attention while not even knowing the kind of bread Ji-young likes.
Given the magnitude of the addressed issues, it is masterful how they get conveyed through an intimate story of an average Jane. That is what the name Ji-young is: a name as common and ordinary as Jane in the West. The name was chosen for a reason; this Ji-young’s story reflects stories of a generation of Ji-youngs. It is the struggle caused by living in a society caught on what seems to be the brink of change, with an entire generation of women caught between a rock and a hard place. It is no wonder that this is a film that has divided Korean audiences while simultaneously ruling Korean box office. It is no wonder that the film is based on a novel that sold over a million copies in South Korea alone (and has been translated into 12 other languages). It is a story that is both intimate and speaks to and for a generation, not just of women, but also men – those who want to step away from conservative ways and open up the doors of equality, but are continuously blocked from doing so by the prejudice of their peers and their parents. This a story that carries both pain and hope; it tells a story of a Korean woman in a way that is real, inevitable, and undeniable.