Often brutal to watch, director Hwang Dong-Hyuk’s Silenced is based on a news story that shocked Korea in 2005, when it was revealed that students in a school for deaf children had been abused for years. In the film, the abuse comes to light when Kang In-Ho (Gong Yoo), a novice teacher, arrives at the school and notices that something is off in the behavior of the children. He quickly discerns that the school hosts a culture of staggering abuse. Perpetrators and enablers range from the principal to the custodian, to the local police chief; female authority figures are as horrific as the males. With the help of a human rights activist whom he meets at the film’s start in cutesy fashion (a tonal misfire) Kang embarks on a mission to help the kids and close the school. Hwang doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors suffered by the children, and watching adults ferociously smack, punch and kick children, as well as rip clothing off and rape them, is beyond unnerving. The taut choreography of these scenes, along with razor sharp editing,makes them unnervingly real. The film’s score at times seems lifted from a horror film, which is both heavy-handed (such goading isn’t needed) and apt, and Hwang frequently veers into the pornographic (i.e. extreme) in order to shock and break your heart. Despite its own crimes of excess, the film does both.
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