Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk
It is impossible to experience ‘Silenced’ without flinching. The winner of the Udine Far East Film Festival Audience Award for Best Film is a deeply disturbing film, rooted in the harsh reality of ignorant apathy and phantom justice. Although surpassed by other productions in many aspects and far from particularly stunning, engaging or brilliant, Hwang Dong-hyuk‘s film is one of explicit graphic brutality which leaves a sense of utter disturbance and inconvenience and makes for a unique feeling of personal attachment.
Based on a novel account of actual events, ‘Silenced’ depicts the severe reality of sexual abuse and physical violence of disabled children in a specially-adjusted deaf school in Korea. As the novice teacher Kang In-ho begins his adjustment to the school, he grows suspicious of the children’s withdrawn behaviour and seeming ignorance of the staff. He soon becomes witness to a range of immoral deeds: being forced into unwilling financial contributions; overhearing disturbing shrieks through the dark corridors at night; and becoming aware of gruelling acts of violent punishment perpetrated by most of the school’s staff and apathetically ignored by the rest. With the help of a human rights activist, Kang begins a difficult battle with forces way more powerful than himself, but also with his own guilt-ridden conscience, making the hard choice between helping strangers or turning a blind eye to atrocities for the sake of providing for his own ill daughter.
‘Silenced’ is thoroughly disturbing and at times too brutal. The director does not shy away from the difficult scenes – instead, he graphically emphasises them, sending shivers all over one’s body until their feet are numb. Kwang utilises genre conventions that provide gritty realism and an almost supernatural air of evil and remind of traditional noir productions, particularly in the opening sequence, as Kang arrives in the sombre misty town of Mujin, while a young boy slowly walks on the train tracks facing an upcoming train. From that moment one, the viewer is engulfed in paralysing tingling numbness all throughout the film, even as it flows into a seemingly easier to consume courtroom environment. And if the graphically explicit exposés of violence and sexual abuse do not suffice, Kwang add a painful combination of child’s innocence, frailty, resilience and stiffening terror.
‘Silenced’ is a conscience-burdening film. The morally-repugnant atrocities would be enough to claim the film implausible, had they not been rooted in reality. The inhumane, ignorant and indifferent officials and the preposterous phantom justice in the face of gruelling abuse is repugnant and unnerving, and this is a feeling that lasts long after the credits roll. Unimaginable deeds are ignored because of personal favours or bribes of corrupt authorities, and the audience desperately prays for a happy ending. But such never arrives – in the heartless justice system, where responsibility is thrown from one to the other, the absurdity and ugliness of the world we inhabit becomes evident, and just when one is ready to exhale a sigh of relief, the brutal reality takes over all hope.