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Still from 'Helping Hand'.

The story of

The making of

Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'.

The inspiration

Jong Gi - a boy with learning disabilities - lives just outside a city and works by scavenging at a rubbish dump for the boss, who gives him a place to sleep but also takes sexual advantage of him and beats him.

Every day he visits the local supermarket to sell recovered lemonade bottles and in order to see Bora, the owner's young daughter on whom he has a crush. Bora is obsessed by her new kitten.

The inspiration came from an encounter in a small temple. An injured mother and daughter came to the temple ostensibly for nursing care but it was really for spiritual refuge. The daughter was two months old with learning disabilities and I became interested in their love for each other and became friends with the mother. I wanted to understand her selfless words and actions. My time there was brief but the influence of the temple and this friendship remained with me for a long time.

Finding the location and the actor

Bora manages to lose her distinctive scarf but Jong Gi finds it and treasures it, knowing it belongs to her.

He finds Bora crying in the street because the kitten is lost. He spends time helping her to look for it.

At the end of a fruitless search he comforts her and takes her back to the shack he lives in.

In the meantime Bora's mother is worried sick about her daughter and searching frantically for her.  She sees Jong Gi's cart with Bora's scarf tied to the handle and panics.

The children play innocently in the old greenhouse which is Jong Gi's home. Bora discovers that he is battered and bruised. In tears, she puts cream on him. But at that moment her mother and Jong Gi's boss find them.

The mother fears Jong Gi must have been assaulting her.

We must all live with dark and light coexisting in our hearts. The hero in this story, Jong Gi, has a pure heart but he is being damaged by the darkness around him.

I began to think about the image of a tunnel bridging light and dark and I searched for the right location. I found an underpass and nearby the building used as the house where Jong Gi lives in slavery. It was easy to attach torn plastic to this building and make it look like a greenhouse unfit for human habitation. The tunnel separates Jong Gi's home where bad things happen to him and the part of the village where he receives some kindness.

Apart from playing a TV bit part a long time ago, the actor who plays Jong Gi, Kim Junhong, is not generally known. I heard about him through friends. I had photos of several actors but most of them did not fit the character. I liked the photo of Kim Junhong and when we met I thought he was exactly what I was looking for.

His understanding of the character of Jong Gi was superb. I only had to ask one thing of him: "You must believe, Kim Junhong, that you have not become corrupted."

Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'.

Korean versus Western culture

With the mother in hysterics they take the children to the police.

The authorities realise Jong Gi's handicap and so take a lenient view, sending him home with a warning. Bora is so upset by the whole event that she does not want to see him either.

It seems to be over ... but the incident has sparked awareness in the boy.

His frustrations at being bullied, abused and misunderstood emerge. In an explosive outburst he rejects his boss and the abusive relationship they have had. He runs off through the tunnel to escape his suffering.

In the last scenes of the film he is alone sobbing, when a girl's hand wipes his tears. Bora has defied her mother to find and comfort her friend..

Western sentiment has not pervaded Korean culture. The powerless minorities at the edges of society are still accustomed to being hurt. However, just as Korea has achieved a breakthrough in economic growth in the developed world we are also making an effort to climb the ranks in terms of welfare and looking after the weak and disabled.

In any nation there is violence wherever human beings live. The things shown in the film could happen in any place in any country.

Loss of innocence

The children are innocent and adults took advantage of them. It is understandable that the men with the police are so angry.

Violence is the biggest problem affecting human beings. But this film is about the loss of innocence concerning pain. Jong Gi is too young to have to experience this pain, just as the girl is too young to have to witness it.

The pure relationship between the girl and her mother is destroyed. The girl and her world are brought into the world of adults. Jong Gi is denied entry to the world of adults. The girl is shaken by the violent feelings stirred up by the incident. It is a shocking situation but that is a fact of how human beings are.

The circumstances causing the girl to cry are inevitably misunderstood. But what was destroyed and will never come back is the innocence in the relationship between Jong Gi and the girl.

Knowing that, I cried.

- Jang Eun Youn

Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'.
Still from 'Helping Hand'. Still from 'Helping Hand'.

Helping Hand won the Daily Mail Trophy as best film in the festival, a Diamond Award and its star, Kim Junhong won best actor award at BIAFF 2011.

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