Half / 하프 / Hapeu (2014)
Director : Kim Se-yeon
Screenwriter : Kim Se-yeon
Cinematographer : Kim Hyun-tao
Editor : Jung Jin-hee
Cast : Ahn Yong-joon, Jung Yoo-Suk, Kim Young-sun, Jin Hye-Kyung, Song Young-kyu
Mina (An Yong-jun) is a transgender who is more like a female personality wise but body-wise has male genitalia. She works at a transgender club but when she comes to the defense of one of her colleagues, she unintentionally kills the aggressor. Her defense lawyer Kim Gi-joo (Jeong Yoo-seok) is not very sympathetic at first until she gets assaulted in a men’s jail. The lawyer manages to get Mina transferred to a women’s prison but also gets abused there. During the trial, her mother (Kim Young-Sun) is also ostracized by her neighbors and hateful strangers.
The movie is based on real life events and represents a strong feature length debut from female director Kim Se-yeon who isn’t afraid to go explicit with some scenes. The story is bookended with a scenes of explicit full frontal nudity where she looks at herself in the mirror where we see her small breasts and penis. It’s a brave scene portrayed by male actor An Yong-jun and quickly establishes the confusion or dual nature of the transgender protagonist. The prison scenes instill fear showing Mina being beaten and trying to fend off attempted rape but doesn’t go as far as actual rape which some prison films might do. In the female prison, she also gets beaten but there’s also a very graphic but brief scene that causes her female inmate to scream. It’s both horrifying and heart breaking.
Actress Kim Young-sun who plays the mother also gives a great performance as a conflicted mother who loves her child but also struggles with accepting Mina’s transgender identity. Actor Jeong Yoo-seok as the lawyer is fine but I find too much time is spent on him looking sad but he also does not have much material to work with. This would be fine if he was given less screen time and handled more as a supporting character. Although he is given a bit of depth in a brief conversation he has with Mina about his past but it rings false as he seems to make his past as an outsider as something comparable to Mina’s outsider status. I feel some of Gi-joo’s scenes could’ve been cut without hurting the focus of the film, which is clearly on Mina.
The main weakness of the film is that it can be a bit obviously manipulative with sad music during emotional scenes. The acting is strong enough that it probably would’ve been more effective to not play any music. It actually makes what should feel like a grounded story a bit too sensationalist at times when restraint and subtly would have worked best.
Another important note is that the English subtitles for this film were terrible at times. Some parts during the court scenes especially are near incomprehensible. The film needs a better translation and since it was release last year, I would’ve thought there was time to fix this before now.
In any case, the film deals with a subject matter that isn’t very common and treats it with respect and excellently portrays the confusion, fear and struggle of Mina as a transgender person.