I’ve already posted my thoughts on the film in general, and some notes on representing disability in fictional narratives, but one more thing struck me that was off-putting about the narrative. It’s mildly spoilery, so for the picky, I’m putting it in the extended section of this post.
There’s the little fact that the villain is a doctor… which in itself is interesting, in that it does seem a trend more in Korean film than in other national cinemas I’ve looked at (like, say, Indonesian cinema or French or Canadian or Bollywood… or of course Hollywood). One finds a rather surprising number of films in which the bad guy, the monster, the psychopath, is a some kind of professional, especially a doctor, lawyer, or very successful buusinessperson.
Having heard stories from behind the scenes at a couple of hospitals and medical schools, I know that some doctors really are, very likely, psychopaths, or jerks at the very least. (Every doctor I’ve known well has mentioned an intern nicknamed “Malig” (for “malignancy”), for example.)
But that is true of any society, and seems unlikely as a reason for the pattern. Rather, I think, the cinematic representation reflects generalized resentment of people in the professional class. (The wine-swilling scumbag businessman villain in the unfortunate 2010 thriller remake of Kim Ki-Young’s The Housemaid comes to mind. Then there’s the rather off-putting lawyer husband in The Good Lawyer’s Wife who, if he is not a villain, is probably that film’s closest thing to it. Were I to sit around thinking about it, I’m sure many more examples would come to mind.)
Well, expressions of resentment for the elite is nothing new, but there was something that turned me off the particular choice of villain in Blind — and that is, he is a gynecologist — and the one scene in which we actually see him working, he seems to be performing an abortion. Now, psychologically it may be that one could see one’s way to imagining a certain kind of man, doing that job, might develop an unhealthy attitude towards women. (Assuming he’s screwed up to begin with, of course.)
But what struck me is — his being a gynecologist doesn’t seem to play directly into the narrative. He could, just as easily, have been an opthamologist, though it might have been less chilling. (It would have been more high-stakes, though, assuming he knew more about optics, vision, and blindness.) The thing that struck me, though, is that I’ve never seen a doctor villain in a Korean film who specialized in the most hateful-of-women branch of medicine popullarly practiced here today. No need to hint, I’ll show you what I mean:
Posters like this are all over the place in Seoul: it’s difficult to go out without seeing one. And at least some of the women who go out and see a barrage of it aren’t exactly oblivious to the fact it represents a kind of constant onslaught on their self-respect, their image of themselves. It’s not just like the doctored pictures of women on the covers of magazines — rather, the message is that you are, in your natural appearance, necessarily insufficient and that plastic surgery is the solution to the apparent problem.
A large proportion of my students are women, and a considerable number of them — far more than their male counterparts — consider this situation seriously, think about it, and try to write about or talk about it in classroom discussions, essays, speeches for contests, and so on. One story I’ve heard a couple of times is of a female student going to a plastic surgery clinic and inquiring about something common and routine like eyelid surgery. What the reported about the experience was this: the doctors said things like, “Yes, we can do that, but you know, for your face, we need to do some work on your nose. Also, to let your beauty shine through, we would need to do something about your jawline.” That is, suggesting other forms of plastic surgery that these women didn’t seem to feel they needed.
Well, yes, that’s what happens when you make plastic surgery into a high-paying business, of course.
But it still kills me that, while I’ve seen doctors of other specialties depicted as corrupt, bad, twisted, or mad — gynecologist, a psychiatrist, and others — I’ve never seen a plastic surgeon presented as a predatory monster harming women. And yeah, that annoys me. If there’s any medical specialty that is more profoundly anti-female than that, I don’t know of it. And while I’m not about to buy the line that gynecologists perform (illegal, in Korea) abortions out of the goodness of their hearts, or as secret allies of women’s liberation — I know too much from accounts by other female students, including one who was a nurse/receptionist in a gynecological clinic where a lot of abortions apparently got performed a decade or so ago — I do think there’s a hatred of women implicit in the the practices of a lot of plastic surgeons here. While that has come forth in certain films, I think, I’ve never seen a plastic surgeon presented as a woman-hating psychopath; this strikes me as profoundly ironic.
By the way, I don’t mean to suggest that Korean villains are always upper-class. I think many are, as part of that whole underdog aesthetic that is popular here — the long-suffering good guy finally gets a break, saves the world, or whatever. There are plenty enough thugs and uneducated bad-guys in Korean movies, I’d think. But when they aren’t illiterate thugs, Korean villains have a surprising tendency to be people of an elite class, whether military, economic, or professional. And that is worth commenting on, I think.
Am I missing something? Is this pattern common in Western thrillers to? I tripped on it, so I assumed it wasn’t but maybe I’m not seeing something that is bluntly obvious in Western films.