Although abortion has long been illegal in Korea, women who have required the procedure typically had few problems locating a surgery willing to help them. While the law is quite clear on the issue, given Korea’s fraught recent history – Japanese occupation, the Korean War, IMF crisis, and so forth – abortion has been, generally speaking, considered an unfortunate yet uncontroversial societal practice, allegedly supported by the state-run population policy. Yet in 2009 a hospital was accused of performing abortions, catapulting the issue into the mainstream spotlight as a source of controversy. Amongst all the debates that have taken place, ironically the women involved have been largely ignored. In documentary Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임), director Jo Se-young (조세영) provides a platform for women who have undergone the procedure to give their personal accounts, and for their voices to be heard.
Let’s Dance is a wonderful documentary and a tribute to women everywhere who have ever considered or undergone an abortion. The beauty of the film lies in the unbiased perspective, as director Jo expertly removes the veil of anonymity and simply allows her subjects to speak about their experiences without fear of judgment. Such a description may imply Let’s Dance is a melancholy affair yet this is far from the case, as the diverse range of women interviewed informally discuss the reasons that led to the decision, generating a context that the black-and-white word of law doesn’t provide. Each interviewee gives a sincere, poignant, and comprehensive account of their respective situation at the time that never fails to create empathy, while the surprising amount of humour – one woman shyly laughs as she describes how her then-boyfriend claimed he simply wanted to fall asleep whilst holding hands – add ever more layers of affinity and insight.
Throughout Let’s Dance, director Jo also wisely includes reenactments of scenes discussed in interviews, which serve to add further understanding as well as comedy. It is intriguing to watch the actors struggle to understand and portray the complex emotions of the situations, which often swing between powerfully moving and funny in the absurdity. Chiefly the comedy is derived from the silliness of the male partners in their attempts to have unprotected sex, while ironically they are also the source of disappointment when it comes to making the difficult decision of abortion. Wonderfully, director Jo never represents the women as victims in the reconstructions, but as women claiming ownership over their bodies, candidly conveying their strength and fortitude.
The documentary also makes a point to discuss the social judgement and stigmatization applied towards women who have had abortions. Such vilification typically comes from religious groups, law makers, and men, and the film does a great job of highlighting the ignorance of such groups in an effective manner. Scenes from a genuine abortion debate in a courtroom are equal parts frustrating and comedic, as the mostly male lawmakers discuss the issue without any real notion of women’s human rights or even biology – one particular male representative hilariously doesn’t know how long pregnancy lasts – with such scenes emphasizing how women’s voices and rights have been pushed to the margins.
Let’s Dance (자, 이제 댄스타임) is a wonderfully frank, moving and surprisingly funny documentary about abortion. Through interviewing a diverse range of women about their experiences with the procedure, director Jo Se-young (조세영) provides a platform for them to informally discuss their respective situations with the resulting stories never failing to generate empathy and insight. Due to director Jo’s unbiased approach, and in conjunction with humourous reenactments by actors, Let’s Dance is powerful testament to women who have ever considered or undergone an abortion.