Deaf Samryong, a film by Shin Sang OK isn't the first time this sentimental novel's been committed to screen, nor would it be the last, but it is reputed director Shin's take on the film. Unfortunately, the story has issues, which leads it's 85 minutes to seem longer than it is.
The story revolves around a very faithful deaf servant to a middle class family in Corea. One day, the spoiled ingrate of a family heir (portrayed as unforgivingly, unapologetically, and uncomplicatedly villainous) gets set up by his parents to marry a noblewoman at a price. However, he's been sleeping with the maid and cares about nothing but her. Samryong, deaf, mute and entirely simple-minded, becomes smitten with the kind-hearted and noble wife and in choosing to honor her as faithfully as her husband, becomes a trigger for tensions to flare up in the family and lead to disastrous results.
While the aesthetics of the film aren't bad and the actors do capably with the material they are given, and I hate to say this about such a well revered text, but the story is rather overly melodramatic. Furthermore, a dream sequence ensues in the film that contradict the exposed nature of Samryong. It feels a lot like the film is actively trying to manipulate you into feeling something for the characters, but the stark and simple nature of the characters led me to find it hard to buy the reality of the work nor recognize the characters as multi-dimensional, but rather as simple caricatures. And that's bad news. It just tries too hard.
But there are some things to like about the film. I think director Shin has some impressive opening sequences in all of his movies I've seen so far, seeming to usually prefer some rather distinct ways to open films. In this case, he opens with a long monologue completely in sign, which I couldn't understand at all, but the silhouette of a hand signing was quite striking. The visuals in the film are also generally quite impressive, even if the actual story and characters were disappointing.
Even assisted by his usually strong performances and good eye, Shin isn't able to take the basic material of the story to better heights. I can't fully blame the story, as adaptations could have been made in film to either simplify or give nuance (!) to the work, but the basic premise seems almost fablesque in its conception, so I can't hold it in high regard, despite its esteem. I applaud the efforts to tell the tale of a deaf-mute simpleton in a positive light, but it was just so overdone in tone that it's hard to really draw up sympathy. This is where melodrama goes wrong. Probably important for historical purposes, but not a must watch for entertainment purposes. In fact, I would hesitate to suggest it. 5/10.
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