It was every parent’s worst nightmare: In South Korea in 2008, an 8-year-old girl was abducted and violently raped on her way to school. The perpetrator was caught and the girl identified her attacker, but she still had to appear at a public trial because the police couldn’t build a solid case against him. The incident blew up into a media free-for-all, which forced to victim and her family to relive their horrible ordeal over and over again.

Now South Korean director Lee Joon-ik has turned the tragedy into a movie, originally released as “So-won,” and packed it with hopeful, life-affirming messages — perhaps a few too many.

The question is, of course, how does a family recover from an experience such as this? In Japan these incidents may not be common, but they’re also nothing extraordinary — kids have been carrying portable anti-crime buzzers for more than a decade and, in many districts, they are forbidden by their schools to talk to or associate with strangers. Horrific crimes against children do happen, a recent example being the abduction and confinement of an 11-year-old girl in Okayama by a middle-age illustrator who told investigators he wanted to “raise the girl as I wish.”

Hope (So-won/Negai)
Director Lee Joon-ik
Run Time 122 minutes
Language Korean (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens Aug. 9

In many Korean films, those who are close to the victims of violence see only one way to respond: revenge. Somehow the criminal must pay, and the more pain she or he suffers, the better.

Lee, however, takes a different approach, in the same way the real family did. Instead of seeking retribution, the victim and her parents concentrated on recovery, and the film shows how, ultimately, that helped them to cope with the enormous burden of their grief. And though the audience is deprived of the catharsis of having a scumbag brought to full and vengeful justice, Lee brings home the conviction that survival and healing are the best revenge.

Having said that, “Hope” (also released as “Wish” abroad) is a long and terribly painful journey. Watching a young girl go through such a gruesome ordeal is not everyone’s idea of entertainment, especially knowing it’s based on reality. Bear with the movie a little longer, though, and Joon-ik’s storytelling reveals how So-won (the young victim, stunningly portrayed by Lee Re) confronts her own fate and how her mother (Uhm Ji-won) immediately enlists the help of doctors and therapists, instead of trying to hide her daughter away — a response that Japanese parents often take in such cases.

Joon-ik’s sympathies clearly lie with the father, played by Sol Kyung-gu. In the world of Korean cinema, Sol is known as a cheerful action hero, and he initially turned down the role because it was too heavy. As it is, he pulls off a superb performance as an ordinary dad suddenly thrown into a marshland of panic, confusion and unbearable anxiety.

“Hope” is not for everyone, but it does offer a sincere portrayal of a family who went through hell and had the guts to come back.

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