Judgement (Simpan,1999) Short Film Review: Addressing Problems of Greed and Capitalism With Dark Humor

Judgement Simpan 1999 Review

Judgement (Simpan, 1999) Review: “Why would you all wish this dead girl to be your kid? Wouldn’t you wish it was someone else’s kid and your daughter is still alive if you love her so much?”

June 29, 1995. For most people, this may seem like an ordinary date, but for Koreans, this date was a nightmare of epic proportions. This is the day when Sampoong Departmental Store in Seoul, South Korea, collapsed, killing 502 people and leaving 937 injured. It was a man-made disaster caused by negligence, corporate corruption, and greed.

It was also a hard blow to the government of that time, which had to pay out monetary compensations to the families of the deceased. Not only did it raise concern regarding safety standards in Korea, but also the corrupted city officials came under scrutiny for accepting bribes with little regard for public safety.

Park Chan-wook, before he became a renowned name, and wowed us with “Joint Security Area” (2000), “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” (2002), and “Oldboy” (2003), and long before he made my personal favorite 2022 film “Decision to Leave,” he made only two films back then with little to no recognition: “The Moon Is… the Sun’s Dream” (1992) and “Trio” (1997). In the aftermath of the Sampoong Departmental store collapse in 1999, he decided to make a 26-minute short satire on a minuscule budget with subtle hints of the event that he uses as a backdrop.

On paper, the storyline is quite simple. The disfigured corpse of a woman lies in a hospital morgue. A middle-aged couple and another party claim the deceased woman as their missing daughter. A TV reporter, his cameraman, and a government public servant are also present.

But Park used his signature dark humor, which we find more in his later works in this short, and questions the systematic bureaucracy, public greed, and selfishness. The story is set in a single setting, with quite a few characters, and is mostly dialogue driven, so much so that it almost feels like a play, and maybe Park intended it that way to make it more vulnerable and raw.

We see the morgue doctor, who doesn’t seem to be interested in his job, and chugs cans of alcohol while watching disasters happening around the globe on his TV with little to no care. We see the haunting black and white (the entire movie is shot in black and white stock except for the final scene, which switches to color, but more on that later) recorded montages of several natural and man-made disasters.

Judgement Simpan 1999 Review

The other characters come into play pretty soon, with the middle-aged couple who claim a disfigured female corpse to be their missing daughter, a TV reporter with his cameraman who is filming whatever is happening on this setting, and a government servant who is overseeing the process and maybe is tasked with giving the couple their monetary compensation for the death of their “supposed” daughter.

Soon, however, things take a turn, as the morgue doctor examines the body and, upon seeing the face (which, of course, him being careless about his job, didn’t see before) and claims that it is his missing daughter. From there, it shifts from what begins as a human drama to a dark, morbid satire.

The camera work here by Hyeon-cheol Park is done as if it is a documentary, and it kind of works to make it more gritty. However, Chan-wook’s macabre sense of humor takes up soon enough, as the audience starts to question whom to believe: a couple who maybe want some closure or the person who is making the competing claim, who also happens to be a high-functioning alcoholic.

Another woman comes into play, who has had cosmetic surgery and a medical condition, which further complicates the plot. In the end, as the film switches to color, a character directly stares at the camera, in an expansion, staring at us, for trivializing death. The newsreels we see early in the movie come into play earlier before the scene, which the audience was led to believe had no context, making this film a short of apocalyptic dystopia.

The actors, in short, do a good job with the loud and obnoxious characters they are given, but it is nothing to write home about, given that they are mostly theatre artists. With its minuscule details and satirical takes, the film gives a bleak commentary on human nature and capitalism.

It rehashes and works against the stagey approach time and again with focused close-ups and actual news footage due to its short duration and giving the vibe of both a documentary and a stage play. Eventually, we are reminded that every action comes with a consequence, and in Park Chan-wook’s own dark, morbid world, even a yawn can be a title card, and even news footage can come into play. You wouldn’t know who to trust here, and you may not find out who is on the right side, but that “judgment,” you will see, might not be needed in the end.

Related to Judgement (Simpan, 1999): Every Park Chan-wook Film Ranked

Judgement (Simpan, 1999) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Judgement (Simpan, 1999) Cast: Hak-rak Choi, Ju-bong Gi, In-bae Ko
Where to watch Judgement
Ankush Sengupta

Just a creative mind stuck in corporate space. Loves reading, cooking, and exploring films. When not doing all this, enjoys writing about his thoughts and exploring various cuisines.