COMFORTLESS. “Your Silence is a Mirror”

by paradoxig

There are histories that we dislike and we want to forget. But we should not. ”COMFORTLESS”, presented at Venice Biennale 2023, Venice Immersive, tells such a story that humanity should always remember: the stories of ‘US military comfort women’.

A conscious effort to bury part of South Korean history: the stories of women that were stationed in towns and forced into prostitution for US soldiers, with the complicity of authorities. A reality and history that is even today repressed in Korean society, is brought to life through ”COMFORTLESS”. Because these stories should not be wiped-out of humanity’s collective memories, even if these memories are… comfortless.

The VR experience, ”COMFORTLESS”, introduces us to a powerful artistic narrative that forces a deep reflection on historical tendencies to minimize and ignore the suffering inflicted on victims of military interventions.

The VR experience is inspired by the stories of the so-called “US military comfort women’.
In 1969, a brothel was established exclusively for the US military near the US Air Force Base in Kunsan, South Korea.
The “American Town”, established with approval from the Korean government, and the comfort-women were recruited from all over the country. Evident from the name, American Town was built specifically for US Soldiers.
It was a project led by one of the members of the group that staged a military coup who eventually became the Director of the Korean CIA. He purchased 8.5 acres of land near Kunsan and established “American Town, Inc.”
Up to 1,000 US soldiers would visit in a single night.

As if the authorities are now ashamed, American Town was designated as a redevelopment area, and the brothels were the first to be demolished. This happened during the pre-production for COMFORTLESS, and the film should be seen also as a race against time to archive this history. Ironically, on the day the production was wrapped, the South Korean Supreme Court announced its final verdict on a lawsuit filed by the women from the US military camp towns.
The judgment acknowledged the government’s responsibility and awarded compensation, pointedly using the term “US military comfort women.”

COMFORTLESS” is the last part of Gina Kim’s VR trilogy on US military comfort women in South Korea following BLOODLESS and TEARLESS. Shot on actual location, BLOODLESS is a VR experimental documentary that traces the last living moments of a real-life sex worker who was brutally murdered by a US soldier at the Dongducheon camptown in South Korea in 1992. TEARLESS, the second part of the trilogy is about a detainment center called “Monkey House”—a medical prison established by the South Korean government and staffed by the US military in the 1970s to isolate and treat camp town women with STDs.

The experience begins exactly in the ‘American town’ by facilitating to visit the remains of the city, now in ruins- its narrow streets, the so-called International Culture Ville, the Los Angeles club, ironically right near the Russian cuisine restaurant, different bars or clubs. As you slowly immerse yourself to discover the surrounding, you can already start to hear the boots of the military that walks around mixed with noises from clubs. In this area, a small shop, maybe a beauty salon, is in ruin. In the mirror, you can meet the protagonist, the reflection of a young woman who looks maybe dreamy, maybe questioning. She will accompany you through her memories.

Throughout the story, the mirror becomes the camera, the lens through which you not only see the story, but the character reveals herself, the depth of soul, mind, memories, emotions. A mirror that apparently is silent, but can reveal and show you an untold story, and silently it lifts the silence.

Between reflection of events and reflecting on the events, the mirror symbol brings an element of considerable plasticity.
The games of history about reflections, about looking and mirroring, passivity and involvement, power and powerlessness, about conflicting states and collective traumas are passed in front of the mirror. A mirror that reflects reality, but at the same time preserves the mortuary silence of facts, voices being reduced to the silence of time, passage, which remains somewhere deep in the memory of a mirror that is broken into shards of consciousness.

The re-memorising starts and when the night falls, various sounds from the past begin to fill the space. While the sound is focusing on what we think is ‘just innocent clubbing’, man just having fun during the night, visuals are showing you the destroyed space, as if they are the results of an exploitation, the mess that was left behind. You can hear the sound of laughter, glasses of alcohol, and the introduction of women: “What is your name? Her name is’ hot-mama’”, while viewing broken windows, glasses, or ruined furniture.
This contradiction between the sound of ‘having fun’ and the ruin-type images, is used to describe the story, while the mirror reflects the image of a woman, remembering her journey.

Interestingly, the director chooses not to show violent images, and carefully avoids the (re)victimization of victims, also protecting the users from secondary traumatisation.

The victim is not reflected as a victim, but as a companion that reveals part of her life, and only from the surrounding space, the user witnesses the unpleasant experiences.
The woman is given the power to choose ‘not to be the victim’ but to dare to reflect upon her past, upon those that harmed her, upon those who witnessed silently. She dares to become uncomfortable, and in the end, to look you directly in your eye to ask boldly: who are you?
And as a witness, the question remains with you and triggers other questions: what will we do with these collective memories? What will we do in the future with this past? Why do we keep the SILENCE?

An exceptionally powerful story, told boldly, but also delicately, COMFORTLESS challenges us to confront uncomfortable truths, to remember and honor these forgotten victims, and work together toward a future where all mirrors begin to speak.

About Director GINA KIM:
Los Angeles-based Gina Kim is one of the few South Korean filmmakers to produce works in Hollywood and her home country. Her award-winning films reimagine cinematic storytelling across different genres and platforms, developing a unique transnational perspective centered on female protagonists.
Kim’s five feature films and works of media art have screened at over 150 prestigious international film festivals and venues such as Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and Sundance, as well as MoMA, Centre Pompidou, and the Smithsonian. Kim’s films have been theatrically released to critical acclaim in Europe, Asia, and the US. Praised by Le Figaro as a “fearless feminist who conceals an extreme sensitivity,” Kim’s Invisible Light (2003) was selected as one of the 10 best films of 2003 by Film Comment. Never Forever (2007), starring Jung-woo Ha and Vera Farmiga, was the first co-production between the United States and South Korea. Final Recipe (2014), starring Michelle Yeoh and Henry Lau, was wide-released in China in more than three thousand theaters.
As an academic, Kim was the first Asian woman in her department at Harvard, and now a professor at UCLA in the department of Film, TV, and Digital Media. In 2019, Kim’s retrospective titled “Desire and Diaspora” was held at Neues Asiatisches Kino in Munich, Germany.

Since 2017, Kim has turned to immersive technology to further investigate the issue of ethics of representation. Kim’s US military comfort women trilogy transforms the controversial issue of crimes by the US military personnel stationed in South Korea into an embodied experience of a viewer. The first piece of the trilogy Bloodless (2017) traces the last day in the life of a sex worker who was brutally murdered by a US soldier in South Korea in 1992. Shot at the actual military brothel, the film won the Best VR Story Award at the 74th Venice International Film Festival, Best VR Film Award at the 58th Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Best Virtual Reality Short Film at the 15th Bogotá Short Film Festival. Filmmaker Magazine selected Bloodless as the Best VR Storytelling of 2017, praising the film as a “12-minute immersive stunner.” Next, Tearless (2020) premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the Best Immersive Work Award at Geneva International Film Festival. The final work in the trilogy, Comfortless, will premiere in 2023. Kim’s immersive work has already been the subject of a retrospective by the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival. In fall 2022, “Remembering Oblivion: Immersive Cinema of Gina Kim ” showcased Bloodless, Tearless, and two augmented reality (AR) installation projects on the hidden history of U.S. military comfort women in Korea.



A VR Film by Gina Kim. Cyan Films Production Starring Boryeong Kim
Produced by Gina Kim Written and Directed by Gina Kim
Executive Producer Zoe Sua Cho
Associate Producer Moa Son Director of Photography Ji-Hyun Kim Co Producer Eunsuk Jo, Seunghyeun Lim, Hanjae Kim Assistant Director Hyeonseung Kim
Script Supervisor Moa Son Editor Gina Kim, Moa Son Production Designer Jongjin Kim Art Assistants Hoonjong Song, Mijeong Lee Hair | Makeup Do Eul Lee, Hyeonmin Park Costume Young A Lee Production Assistants Daewon Lee, Young-in Cho, Hansol Seo VR Cinematographer Alex Lee VR Camera Assistant Sang Hwa Lee, Wooseok Cheon, Hyeongdeok Jeon Gaffer Soo Yeol Im Grips Chel-hwan Kim Location Sound Sol Kim VFX Supervisor Jae Chan Ka CGI Supervisor Dong Hwan Lee Sound Design Marco D’Ambrosio Lead Composite Artist Gihyeon Kim Publicity Sue Kim, Da Ye Kim Marketing Creative Sue

COMFORTLESS is sponsored by; Korean Creative Content Agency, Jeonju International Film Festival, UCLA Faculty Research Grant and UCLA Center for the Study of Women

All photos are copyrighted by and 80 th VENICE IMMERSIVE and may be used by the press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage

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