The Power of Media: Three Asian Movies with Strong Social Values

Dive into the cinematic productions that effectively encouraged society to make changes.

As the film industry expands, it produces various works tailored to different audiences. Movie producers strive for commercial success by crafting dramatic storylines that tug at emotions or deploy stunning visual effects to captivate viewers. Yet, beyond mere entertainment value, films possess the potential to inform, reflect, and inspire societal transformation.

The following three Asian films exemplify this potential by confronting pressing social issues and catalyzing real-world change.

“Silenced” (2011): “The reason we fight isn’t to change the world, but so the world doesn’t change us.”

The release of the Korean film “Silenced” in 2011 sparked intense debate. The movie portrays a harrowing real-life incident in which faculty members at Gwangju Inhwa School sexually and physically abuse deaf students.

The protagonist of the film, Gang In-ho, is a new teacher at Benevolence Academy who uncovers the ugly truth that almost all of the hearing-impaired children at the school are subjected to abuse by their teachers, housemaster and principal. The victimized children, who were all disabled and have difficulties speaking and hearing, were unable to expose the crimes or ask for help.

In an effort to fight for the rights of these children, In-ho reported the offenses to the police and brought the case to court. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic corruption in the Korean legal system at the time, the criminals received light and suspended sentences. The real-life outcome was even direr: only two of the six criminals served jail sentences and four of them were reinstated at the school.

Following the release of “Silenced,” audiences were outraged by the cruel actions of the school faculty and the lenient court rulings. The public outcry ultimately led to the police reopening the case and rendering a new verdict. In response to public pressure, Gwangju City shut down the school and convicted the criminals. The Korean National Assembly also enacted the “Dogani Law,” which imposes harsher penalties on offenders and eliminates the statute of limitations for disabled individuals and children under the age of 13.

The cultural impact of “Silenced” extends far beyond individual awareness, as the film catalyzed social progress in Korea. The film’s power to galvanize the public spurred action that helped bring justice to the victims of abuse and paved the way for meaningful legislative reform

“Dearest” (2014): “I will find you, my children.”

“Dearest” is the first Chinese film to focus on the issue of child trafficking; director Peter Chan aimed to raise public awareness through storytelling.

The movie features heart-wrenching stories of families searching for their abducted children. The main character, Tian Wenjun, eventually found his son, Tian Peng, in a rural village. However, Han Dezhong, another character, continues to search for his missing son, Xiao Bao. Sun Haiyang, the real-life inspiration for Han Dezhong, had not yet found his son when the film premiered in 2014.

The film touched audiences and sparked discussions about child trafficking. It also became a commercial success, grossing $54.64 million at the box office.

As a result of the public outcry, the government and police paid more attention to child trafficking cases, improved regulations, and punished traffickers. In one scene, a character is told by the police that they cannot help find his missing son until 24 hours have passed, reflecting the real situation at the time. This loophole was discussed by citizens, leading to a change in rules so that police could respond immediately to reports of abducted children.

After the movie’s release, Sun Haiyang’s case gained attention and the police and the public tracked its progress. On December 6, 2021, after DNA comparison, Sun Haiyang’s son Sun Zhuo was finally found.

“Dying To Survive” (2018): “There is only one disease in the world, that is, poverty.”

The third film I would like to discuss is “Dying to Survive,” which is based on a true story. The movie tells the story of Cheng Yong, a small business owner who smuggles cheap Indian drugs into China to help leukemia patients who cannot afford expensive drugs. As he becomes more involved with these patients and witnesses their struggles, Yong decides to risk everything to help them rather than just focusing on profits. However, Yong’s illegal activities eventually catch up with him, and he is apprehended by the police.

The film raises complex emotional and moral issues. Many patients are forced to sell their homes to afford expensive drugs, and without access to these drugs, they are left with no hope. Yong’s decision to prioritize morality over legality moves many audiences.

“Dying to Survive” also raises broader social issues, such as the difficulty low-income individuals face in accessing necessary medical resources under the current healthcare system. The film also raises questions about whether a person can be forgiven for breaking the law if they are acting in accordance with their moral principles.

The film’s success at the box office was significant, but the social issues it raises are even more important. “Dying to Survive” highlights the hidden problems within society, encouraging viewers to empathize and take action.

Films such as “Silenced,” “Dearest” and “Dying to Survive” have had a powerful impact on Asian culture and society. These movies have helped to shift attitudes and spark positive social changes by highlighting important issues that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Danni Shuai, University of Southern California

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Danni Shuai

University of Southern California

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