Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Surrogate Woman



Women's pictures seem to flourish in countries where economic transformation has jolted the patriarchal social order. In the U.S. the Great Depression ushered in a wave of tearjerkers starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; between the world wars in Japan, with the modernization of the economy and the revamping of rigid Confucian thought, the plight of women came under the sympathetic scrutiny of directors such as Mizoguchi and Naruse. Similar transitions have since taken place in Taiwan, South Korea, and most recently China, yielding a bumper crop of melodramas centered on the fate of suffering or rebellious heroines. This weekend and next, the Film Center is offering a sampler of the best of the genre from Korea, five films featuring strong, accomplished performances from leading Korean actresses (ranging from Lee Mi-Sook's cunning vixen in Mulberry to Kim Ji-Mi's teahouse madam in Ticket). In Surrogate Woman (1988), directed by veteran Im Kwon-Taek, Kang Soo-Yeon gives an intensely moving portrayal of an 18th-century peasant girl who's brought into a noble household at the height of the Yi dynasty to bear a son for the young lord and his barren wife. The film obliquely castigates the period's preference for sons, as well as the stifling class prejudices still prevalent in Korea. Its bleak ending--after the helpless girl breaks a taboo by falling in love with the lord, she's cruelly punished by the jealous wife--serves to remind us of the feudal past's tragic hold on the industrialized present. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, November 13, 6:00, 443-3737.

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