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Personal story of ‘An Old Lady’ sends universal message

Film about elderly sexual abuse sheds light on dignity of seniors

“An Old Lady” (Atnine Film)
“An Old Lady” (Atnine Film)

During “An Old Lady,” the 69-year-old protagonist Shim Hyo-jung acknowledges that her story might make some people uncomfortable, but says it must be told, reminding us that “living” our lives, is not merely approaching an end to them.

While the upcoming film deals with the largely unexplored topic of sex crimes against the elderly, that is where the film starts, not what it centers on.

Hyo-jung is sexually abused by a 29-year-old male nurse’s aide while receiving physical therapy. When she reports this to the police, the young officers are overtly wary of her statements, wondering if she may be suffering from dementia. When no one seems to believe Hyo-jung, who has no family or friends, her roommate Dong-in is more than supportive, investigating the case and speaking to the suspect to persuade him to turn himself in.

“I was shocked after reading a column about sexual abuse of elderly women. It said that our society tends to deem seniors as asexual beings, and such stereotyping makes old women easy targets of sex crimes as they are weak and are less likely to report to the police,” director Lim Sun-ae said during a press premiere of the film at a local theater Tuesday.

Veteran actress Ye Su-jeong leads the film as Hyo-jung. Ye, along with other lead cast members Ki Joo-bong and Kim Jun-gyeong, attended Tuesday’s press event.

Rather than focusing on the assault case, the film shows how the elderly victim struggles to protect her dignity as she fights to prove herself. Although suffering from post-traumatic stress from the incident, Hyo-jung refuses to run away or break down.

“Although the topic was unfamiliar, I approached the script in a broader sense,” Ye said, adding that the personal aspect of life portrayed in the film fascinated her.

The Korean title of the film is “69,” the number the director chose to describe an age that hangs somewhere between middle-aged and elderly.

Such perspective is reflected in the film. Hyo-jung is an ardent swimmer and always dresses in neat and formal attire to avoid being seen merely as an “old woman.”

“Although what she is going through may come as disgraceful for Hyo-jung, I assumed she would have experienced worse pains than that in her life. Hyo-jung doesn’t seem like a person easily swayed by what happens to her, and I wanted the 69 years of her life to shadow over the film,” Ye, 65, said.

“An Old Lady” (Atnine Film)
“An Old Lady” (Atnine Film)

Hyo-jung’s relationship with Dong-in -- played by veteran actor Ki -- is also another message of the film. While the couple lives together, they are not married nor do they seem to be in a romantic relationship.

“Dong-in and Hyo-jung’s partnership is very important to this film. I wonder if Hyo-jung could have mustered the courage to take the first step forward if she did not have this male friend,” Ye said. “Even looking back at my own life, every time I make a bold decision, although it seems like they are my own decisions, there is always a close person supporting me from behind.”

According to the director, it was Ye who recommended Ki for the role, saying, “Although anyone could act Hyo-jung, only Ki Joo-bong can take up Dong-in.”

Rookie actor Kim Jun-gyeong takes his first major role in film as the 29-year-old nurse‘s aide.

Having worked some 20 years as scripter and screenwriter for small and big movies -- including “Svaha: The Sixth Finger” (2019), “The Fortress” (2017) and “Helpless” (2012) -- Lim makes her directorial debut with “69.”

“The film’s message is not about telling people to respect or pay attention to seniors, but more about two seniors becoming aware of their own dignities and supporting each other. Because their life continues, the film inevitably has an open ending,” Lim said.

“An Old Lady” hits the local cinemas on Aug. 20.

By Choi Ji-won (
Korea Herald Youtube