This review references sexual abuse. Reader discretion advised.
Choi Cho-ah’s Playground featured in the Women’s Voices Shorts Programme, running at 29 minutes. The film follows new nursery teacher Si-eun as she struggles with a past sexual trauma and witnesses inappropriate behaviour from one of the boys in the class towards a girl, Seolha. Whilst it deals with some incredibly dark, personal themes, it does so in an important and careful way.
As she’s going about her work day, Si-eun starts to notice Seolha being touched by one of the boys. It is clear she doesn’t want him in her personal space, but being so young, doesn’t understand how inappropriate it is. Si-eun soon becomes concerned about this behaviour and starts to keep an eye on both of them, even going as far as staying close to Seolha at the end of her day until her father arrives to pick her up. Si-eun begins teaching Seolha about consent, telling her that she shouldn’t let people touch her when she doesn’t want to be.
The other teachers at the school chastise Si-eun for being so suspicious, telling her that because she’s not a mother she couldn’t possibly understand what children are like. I loved the way the film deals with a variety of women’s issues from sexual abuse to being shamed for not wanting (or currently having) children. Si-eun is both the protagonist and black sheep of this film, trying her best to shelter Seolha from danger. The toxic phrase ‘boys will be boys’ is certainly prevalent throughout as the filmmaker criticises society’s way of just sweeping things to one side and moving on.
Playground is a well made, well scripted short film that opens audience’s eyes to the real horrors of the world. It doesn’t need to rely on crazy special effects or camera angles to tell its story, instead sticking close to the subject matter and positioning us like we’re part of the scene and included in what’s going on. It’s actually a very uncomfortable position to find yourself in which I believe was the director’s intention. It’s a powerful message about not being a bystander and allowing things like this to happen.
The film takes a darker turn in the final 10 minutes or so, which I won’t spoil, but is a consequence of people being pushed too far and left me in stunned silence whilst the credits roll. I think this film will stick with me for a very long time, and for good reason. If you get the opportunity to see it for yourself – please take it.