Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
It’s a movie that makes you feel good and energized after watching it. Healing and pleasant energy relieves the feeling of helplessness these days where frustration piles up amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This very movie is Samjin Company English Class, which depicts a story in which high school graduates who take TOEIC courses join forces to dig into the company’s corruption. The movie, which raises curiosity even with the title, presents fresh material and story that anyone can relate to, fully supporting the friendship, solidarity, and courage of those who silently pull their weight.
Lee Ja Yeong, Jung Yoo Na, and Shim Bo Ram, who have been working in the company for 8 years, are always excluded from promotion only because they are high school graduate female employees. All day long, the tasks they are given are all kinds of chores such as running errands, making coffee, and cleaning. Ja Young (Go Ah Sung), a member of the production management team, has excellent executive skills but only works as a help, Yoo Na (Esom) from the marketing department is never given a chance to speak out her brilliant ideas, while former math Olympiad champion Bo Ram (Park Hye Soo) is only in charge of filling in fake receipts in the accounting department. The three friends and all high school graduates are hindered by academic discrimination, so they just hover around the same position since joining the company. But one day, they are given a new chance. The company announces that those who score higher than 600 in the TOEIC test will get promoted to assistant managers. With the hope of finally getting promoted, high school graduates take the company’s TOEIC class.
Samjin Company English Class tells the story of people who never give up till the very end. One day, when Ja Young is on outside duty, she panics as she witnesses the unauthorized discharge of factory wastewater amid the heavy rain. Ja Young, a low-level employee who is not in the position to say something directly to the company, persuades the college-graduate assistant manager, who was there at the scene with her, to report the incident, and it seems like everything is going in order as the company started to talk about the compensation for the victims affected by the wastewater. However, she soon realizes that all of it is just a trickery. The more she tries to dig into the case, the thicker and stiffer the wall gets, but instead of being frustrated and giving up, she continues the impossible fight by finding ways to inform people about the company’s corruption.
The friendship and solidarity of these high school graduate female employees who were never treated equally are the biggest forces fighting against the company that is trying to cover up its internal irregularities. Yoo Na, Bo Ram, and high school graduate colleagues that understand each other’s hardships have Ja Young’s back. Yoo Na, the master of outspoken comments, and Bo Ram with excellent math skills, are strong allies who support and give strength to Ja Young, who is suffering from guilt. Other high school graduates from different departments also add strength to the three in their respective positions.
These trios never think that they are carrying out a grand mission. Like how Yong Nam and Eui Ju from Exit gave up on their chance to be rescued for students trapped in the cram school, Ja Young, Yoo Na, and Bo Ram raise their voice because they cannot ignore the sad and unjust reality. And, just as Eui Ju sobbed after sending the rescue helicopter, these three friends also feel a heavy and helpless reality. It is a story in which ordinary citizens, or those who are not appropriately treated in society, join forces to help those weaker than themselves.
The movie was inspired by a true story. It combines the story of a large company that opened a TOEIC class for high school graduates in the 90s with an illegal wastewater discharge case we’ve seen at least once on the news and completed a plot of high school graduates chasing after the company’s corruption. The reality that movies deal with is not light. Materials such as academic discrimination, corporate corruption, and environmental pollution are heavy, but they are unraveled kind-heartedly and speedily. Samjin Company English Class delightfully captures the presence of high school graduates such as portraying the time of making coffee, which marks the start of their day, as a time for social gathering, while the story of digging into the suspicion of cover-up at the risk of getting fired shows twist after another twist, giving off a spy film-like atmosphere.
Samjin Company English Class feels familiar and yet new. We can easily foretell the ending, but the process of overcoming various difficulties is unique in the sense that the heroes of “creating a better tomorrow” are high school-graduate female employees who are hampered by the wall of discrimination.
Verdict: A movie that took women-centric film to the next level (8/10)