Kwon Chil-in’s HELLCATS stalks the life of three women, bound by familial bonds and their inability to fit into traditional female roles. The screenplay is based on the graphic novel 10, 20, and 30 by Kang Mo-Ri. There are three things that a woman needs to avoid: cheating on her lover, developing wrinkles, and showing her true feelings. A-mi(Kim Min-hee), the film’s narrator delineates her observations into clear lists and analogies. She wonders if life and love could be played like sports. We would receive warnings and yellow cards for screwing up and be given clear-cut rules to work with. Ami’s sharp musings keep flowing despite her lack of writing income. Even though Ami’s dramatic outbursts and addictive personality screw up her judgment, her allegiance to honesty has you rooting for her.
Life is not a game of soccer, but societal rules do exist — the binding, unsaid roles that women are forced to play. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that each of the three women cannot squeeze herself into the role that her age and gender dictates. The writer in her late twenties can’t stomach the man who wants to promise her marriage and stability. Young-mi (Lee Mi-sook), a middle-aged single mother, is in command of her career but as her body flirts with symptoms of menopause, she uses her lover as lifeline to youth. The teenage daughter Kang-ae (Ahn So-hee of the Wondergirls) should be playing the field with cute boys her age but is constantly drawn back to the practice kiss that she shared with her best friend.
Director Kwon invites you into the inner lives of these three women while keeping you waiting for their next coping mechanism. He does this from a distanced viewpoint, letting the audience watch the strands of their lives fray and at times erupt. Once in awhile he brings you closer, zooming in on symbolic details: odd and remarkable shots of a slowly shattering bottle of red wine or roses that wilt and fade with a woman’s hope for her youthful libido.
The characters have the same concerns that plague many modern women. As powerful and independent women how do we express our love and fragility to others without losing our sense of independence? The only definite answer offered by the film is the challenge of learning to live without regrets by choosing what feels right even if everyone else says it’s wrong. When forced to lie about her occupation and income in order to travel to America, Ami faces her unwillingness to pretend to be anyone but herself. This epiphany lands her right in front of her computer again with a new resolve to improve her “baby” – the screenplay. The parallel is clear — her lack of focus on her creative work spills over into her personal life just as her dedication to her writing will someday, hopefully, reward her with a winning lover.
There are aspects of each character that I think most people can relate to whether they want to not. We’ve all been in desperate scenarios that serve as a rude wake-up call to our own sorry narratives. Director Kwon Chil-In’s HELLCATS is a funny and unsettling film that leaves you with a sense of buoyant anticipation for the next chapter of each woman’s life. – SYL