Saturday, 10 September 2016

Review: The Silenced

The Silenced is a thriller-mystery written and directed by Lee Hae-young, released in 2015, and starring Park Bo-young and Park So-dam as students at the secretive boarding school run by headmistress Uhm Ji-won. I found it by scouring through the horror section - my favourite section - on UK Netflix.

I'm a casual fan of foreign film and television - that is to say I haven't seen many of the big titles that have been released over the past few years, but I've seen the occasional Danish or French film and Swedish television series. I am by no means an aficionado and I don't recall ever seeing anything made outside of Europe or the USA, so I didn't have any particular expectations when I started watching The Silenced, other than I had planned on sitting down to a horror. 

The story is set in 1938, during the Japanese colonisation of Korea, and after following her car through mountainous forests we are introduced to a rather sickly looking Ju-ran, known as Shizuko (which, rather aptly, means "quiet child"), portrayed by Park Bo-young. Her stepmother is begrudgingly escorting her to her new, isolated boarding school, where she will be treated for tuberculosis.

It's quickly clear, though, before Ju-ran even steps across the threshold of the school, that a spectre is hanging over it. She has the same name as a previous student, Shizuko, who disappeared overnight without a word to her schoolmates. Her two best friends, Kazue and Yuka, are particularly devastated by this, but while Kazue befriends the shy Ju-ran, Yuka reacts quite differently, and bitterly resents the new Shizuko.

But Yuka's vicious attacks on her are the least of Ju-ran's worries. Another girl disappears, but not before Ju-ran encounters her in a more than peculiar state and the mysteries of the school deepen.

The concept behind The Silenced is not one unfamiliar to the average film fan, but to describe it or even just compare it to other films would certainly destroy the mystery. I must, though, praise the film for its unique historical backdrop and its female-led cast. The claustrophobic environment of the boarding school allows for dynamic relationships to form between unpredictable characters as the film progresses and we wonder who we should like, and never quite expect what's coming next. All the while the viewer cannot help but notice the beautiful 1930's-inspired sets and costumes - the girls' uniforms made my heart skip a little beat!

Admittedly, the film wasn't perfect. There were times when the story moved slowly, but one can rarely expect something set in a girls' boarding school in 1930's Korea to be fast paced at all times, and I'm not sure I would want it to, because the slower pace allowed for the character development I admired throughout. The film just wasn't the "horror" I set out to watch - which made sense once I finished and realised it was rated G.

The Silenced is a carefully constructed film that never quite reaches a crescendo, but is certainly worth a watch regardless. I would recommend watching it on a Sunday evening with your favourite type of hot and comforting beverage, because the story may not pan out the way you expect it to - or, indeed, urge it to.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Why I Keep Going to See Jersey Boys: A Review

In May, one of my best friends visited me in London. We were on a high after finishing our exams and decided to take advantage of my residence in the capital before I moved home for the summer. I wish I could say we did all the touristy things, but frankly we weren't that organised. On the final night of her visit, though, we found ourselves wandering through Piccadilly Circus, I imagine in the middle of one of our absurd conversation, when something caught my eye. It was a ticket booths, advertising discounted tickets for a plethora of West End shows.

"Why don't we just go in and ask, see how much tickets are? We won't pay anything more than £25, maybe, if there's something we want to see?"

We ended up paying around £26 each. The name Jersey Boys had been mentioned. "Oh, go on!" I pleaded. "I've been wanting to see it for ages!"

I guess most people grow up listening to The Beatles or Bowie, and I did too, but I'd also been acquainted with the sound of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons for as long as I could recall. I'd been introduced to 'Big Girls Don't Cry' by films like Dirty Dancing and Mermaids. 'Sherry', 'Beggin'', and so many others I feel I have somehow always known, they simply slipped into my conscious one day and never left.

So my friend and I found ourselves transported to "Belleville, New Jersey, a thousand years ago, Eisenhower, Rocky Marciano, and a few guys under a streetlamp singing somebody else's latest hit," from the Grand Circle of Piccadilly Theatre. Strawberry daiquiris were drunk (that was me), realisations that we were seeing a show about the Four Seasons, not the Four Tops were had (that was my friend), and tears were held back (that was both of us). We left on an emotional high and both of us spent the subsequent week trying and failing to sing along to the original Frankie Valli's falsetto, impeccably replicated in the theatre by Matthew Corner.

Nine days later, after a brief visit home, I was at the Piccadilly Theatre to again to see the show for what was now the third time. When the lady at the box office asked if I had seen it before as we bought our tickets, I bashfully admitted, "Actually, I was here yesterday," before we excitedly made our way to the front row.

It's here that I would quickly like to pay special tribute to Mark Isherwood, one of the swings for Jersey Boys. For the previous two performances, I had seen him perform as the late Nick Massi, the bass guitarist and bass vocalist who ponders aloud throughout the show, "Maybe I should start my own group." Now I was seeing him perform as Tommy DeVito, just a day later, and he was bringing as much personality to this role as he had to the role of Nick Massi, and was performing it just as well. I know this is exactly what a swing does, but I could not help but be in awe of him as a performer. I have yet to see Jersey Boys without him, and I can't help but wonder if it might feel a little odd when I do.

And I certainly mean "when", because I am determined to return to the Piccadilly Theatre to see at least one more performance. Jersey Boys offers a colourful, heartfelt take on the story of Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, Nick Massi, and Bob Gaudio. Having seen the show from the second and first row on two consecutive nights, I can personally vouch for the passion, energy, and emotion each actor pours into their role, and that there will be tears in your eyes during at least two of the musical numbers.

Jersey Boys is a perfectly put together musical, so much so that it would seem even Clint Eastwood has been to see it again and again, because when I turned on his 2014 movie adaptation of the story, I recognised some of the scenes as almost shot-for-shot remake of the stage musical.

So if it's good enough for Clint Eastwood, I think it's safe to say if you ever find yourself in the West End with a few hours to spare, you should wander up to the Piccadilly Theatre and see if you can pick up a ticket for Jersey Boys.

Friday, 22 July 2016

I Don't Want to Burn My Bra

I don't know how to be a good feminist. 

I wouldn't say I read a lot of feminist literature. I adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I've read Woolf, and tore her to shreds in a seminar because I didn't appreciate her bourgeoisie ideals. I read I Killed Scheherazade by Joumana Haddad and appreciated the insight she gave me, but winced at her anger and tired of her self-indulgence. I read comedian Sara Pascoe's Animal because I wanted to know how and why my body affects my behaviour towards others and myself (but also because I just really love Sara Pascoe). Aside from that, I appear to have glided through the lectures and seminars on Beauvoir's The Second Sex without noticing and I briefly flipped through a borrowed copy of How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran.

Maybe that's why I haven't really found who I am as a feminist. I know I want everyone to have access to the same rights and freedoms. I know that as a white woman who attends university that I have more rights and freedoms than many women across the world, and in fact many men too. I know that as someone who grew up in a derelict town, where no one had much of anything, I absolutely could not stand A Room of One's Own upon reflection, though I admit at the time I devoured Woolf's archaic, privileged brand of feminism. I also know that I despise the oppression Haddad describes in I Killed Scheherazade. But how valid is my opinion, given I'm a white girl living in western society? How much can I say before I become part of the problem? What if I say too little about that which does not concern me, and instead of being the inclusive feminist and humanitarian I wish to be, I become one of the dreaded white feminists rampant online?

I think what's important to remember when one is a feminist who happens to be white is that you really are privileged in ways you may not even realise. As everyday racial and religious tensions continue to rise to a disgusting degree across the western world, I am made aware of a privilege I have, but is denied to other women:

I can wear a headscarf without fearing judgement or, worse, fearing for my safety.

It seems insignificant. It's autumn, it starts raining, and I pull my scarf over my head, completing the 80 year-old going for tea and scones chic look I apparently aim for in the colder months. In London, no one looks twice. In my hometown in Yorkshire, no one looks twice.

Picture another scenario, though. A 20 year-old girl, much like myself, places the same scarf on her head before leaving the house. It's a physical embodiment of her religious and moral beliefs. In London, no one looks twice. In my hometown in Yorkshire, people glare, they move away from her, they whisper about her, and they might even fear her. I've seen it happen. Worse, they may start abusing her in the street. They talk loudly about how much they hate immigrants, refugees, Muslims, spitting the words out like they're acidic on their tongue. I've waited for busses in the rain, scarf upon my head, listening to proud racists spouting this kind of vitriol, and wondering how they would behave if my skin and hair were a little darker, and my eyes something other than an indiscriminate shade of blue or green. I'll never understand that fear, that's my privilege. But I know I never want anyone to experience that fear, and I know I want to work against that as a feminist.

There is another enemy to the hijab-wearing woman, though, that I want to fight against as a feminist: the white, western feminist, who, like me, does not understand what it is to be a woman who wears a hijab, a niqab, or any other kind of religious clothing, but instead of attempting to tackle the man or woman who loudly declares their prejudices on the no. 37 bus, they attack the hijab itself. This is done with honourable intentions, but centres on the white feminist's own beliefs, that she would feel oppressed if she had to wear a hijab. She forgets to recognise that there is often choice in wearing a hijab, that her feelings towards it are shaped by the society she grew up in, and that it is entirely possible for one to feel liberated through wearing a hijab. I'm sure, of course, that there are girls and women forced into wearing religious clothing, but I don't want to insist that women in the street tear off their hijabs, niqabs, and burqas in a misguided attempt to "liberate" them. As a feminist, I want to give women a choice, and I want to tackle the wider problems that deprive them of choice.

This all, of course, is just one extended example of the problems I will never understand, but continue desperately to attempt to educate myself on. There's so much more to be said for Black women, Asian women, Arab women, and every woman in every country across the world. I fear excluding these women from my own personal version of feminism, but I also fear becoming so involved that I unintentionally begin to speak over them, or speak for them.

There are certain issues that I know definitively where to stand. I know that women should not have to ask permission. I know that black lives matter. I know that forced marriage is wrong, child marriage deplorable, and that female (and, in fact, male) circumcision is mutilation. But is the hijab oppressive? Or are scantily clad models on 30ft billboards the ones who are really oppressed? Was Taylor Swift's video for Shake it Off really a celebration of culture, or was it cultural appropriation? How on earth am I, a girl who has spent the past day devouring Bridget Jones's Diary, quietly noting the fact that 9st really isn't overweight and Bridget possibly has some form of body dismorphia, supposed to be able to tell?

I really don't know how to be a feminist.