SECRETS OF OUR TOWN
The Crucible is a novel by Gong Ji Young, which is based on a true story. The film of the same name follows a new teacher, Kang In Ho (Gong Yoo), at a school for the hearing impaired children in Mujin. He’s working there to earn money for his sick daughter but learns that the children there are being physically and sexually abused by the teachers. When he decides to expose the crimes and fight for the children’s rights, he teams up with human rights activist, Seo Yoo Jin (Jung Yoo Mi). However, In Ho and Yoo Jin discover that not only are the school’s principals and teachers behind the cover up but the police, local doctors, prosecutors and local churches have been paid off to keep silent about the crime.
A bit of warning to start things off, this movie is extremely graphic and has been rated for adult audiences only. The movie got some criticism for being too graphic, maybe too sensational and for inflicting the young cast to act in some violent and sexually explicit scenes. On the other hand, the movie also got criticism for not being graphic enough because it doesn’t tell the full story of the horrors that were inflicted on the real children. Only 1/3 of the horrors are depicted in this film. I will say this. Movie producers and directors have very specific rules when filming with underaged talent. They must talk child actors and their guardians through the subject matter and what the filming process will be like and give them the option to not do scenes they are uncomfortable with. Scenes like this require immense trust between the crew and the co-actors playing the villains and parents are always present for those scenes. Plus, a lot of child actors tend to be emotionally advanced and are more self-aware of what they can handle. Watching it, on the other hand, is extremely disturbing.
Gong Yoo is pretty powerful in the movie. It’s far from the romantic comedies we’re used to seeing him in. In Ho is a poor widowed teacher who is just trying to make ends meet. When he is given the position at the recommendation of a mentor, he arrives and observes peculiar behavior from some of the children. He is also told that he must fork over money as a “donation” that all new teachers must give. There is clearly something off at this school but in the beginning In Ho is meekly obedient. He’s got a sick daughter so he needs the money.
I love how we get to see this side of In Ho because it adds to the reality of the situation. In Ho immediately notices that things aren’t quite right but doesn’t fully understand the situation so when he hear screams in the middle of the night, he accepts the explanation that is given to him. It’s hard to imagine that your new co-workers are despicable and you’d be in a precarious position if you accuse them falsely.
So as a human being, I can fully understand where In Ho is coming from. Visually though, In Ho is seen like one of the students too. The principal and the staff belittle his intelligence by telling him that disabled kids are different from normal kids and must be treated as thus.
However, he soon decides that he cannot remain silent anymore. Gong Yoo’s acting is impressively introspective here. Through his observations, we see his thought process of how he puts the clues together and becomes aware of the little details in the corruption and conspiracy behind the case. Also, even though the camera isn’t focused on him Gong Yoo continues to act noticeably behind the scenes. There is a scene in the courtroom where Yeon Doo is giving testimony that she heard music even though she is deaf. So the lawyer tries to test that theory out and when she answers correctly, In Ho is seen in the background looking relieved. It’s those little details that takes Gong Yoo’s acting to an entirely new level.
Of course, I have to mention the kids in this movie. Yeon Doo (Kim Hyun Soo who recently played young So Yi in Tree with Deep Roots), Yoo Ri (Jung In Suh), and Min Soo (Paek Seung Hwan) are the heart of this film. While in reality, there were many more children who were abused, we see the abuse through them. And each of them handles the trauma differently. Yeon Doo is at first terrified but grows defiant to prove her case in court, Yoo Ri alerts In Ho to the crimes but retreats to a childlike naiveté and Min Soo is enraged and remorseful over the death of his little brother but learns to slowly trust In Ho and Yoo Jin.
The ending is tragic and yet some people felt this was a negative way to end the film. The truth of the matter is these criminals really did get a slap on the wrist. While I would have hoped that the bad guys were punished and our protagonists find a new reason to live, life sadly doesn’t work out that way.
This film isn’t just about a case that happened in this small town and in this one school. It happens everywhere. Which brings up the case at Penn State. The film’s intent is not to wrap things up in a nice, neat package so that we can sleep soundly at night but rather it is here to raise awareness and to be enraged that crimes of this nature are being swept under the rug.