Drawing us deep into autistic emotions

Hannah Coulstock watches 'Innocent Witness'.

27 January 2020

As a 16-year-old student hoping to study psychology at university, I recently attended a film festival in Singapore. One movie I watched was Innocent Witness, a Korean film directed by Lee Han. It appealed to me as one of the main characters has autism and I have previously worked with autistic children. 

The movie follows the trial of a housekeeper accused of murdering her employer. The only witness is Ji-woo, a teenage girl with autism who lives next door to where the alleged crime happened. What she sees, hears and interprets is instrumental to the case.

The defence lawyer, Soon-ho, wants Ji-woo to testify, believing this would help his client. Prior to trial, he spends time with her in order to convince her to come to court. Much of the movie focuses on how Soon-ho gradually begins to understand the nature of autism, has his prejudices challenged and how Ji-woo is affected by autism in her daily life. A telling example during the trial revolves around the interpretation of facial expressions and a pivotal moment in his understanding occurs when he refers to autism as a ‘mental disability’. Ji-woo’s reaction is heart rending, drawing us deeply into the emotions felt by people with autism.

The relationship between the two protagonists affects the outcome of the trial in an unexpected way. The director has been sensitive in his portrayal of autism while still crafting a cleverly plotted film. Several sub-plots explore Ji-woo’s relationship with her mother and classmates to provide a fuller picture of her life.

Although my own experiences of interacting with children with autism is relatively limited, I found this film reflective of reality. It helped me further understand the challenges of dealing with autism from multiple perspectives as well as being a thought-provoking film. 

I would thoroughly recommend it to everyone, as you don’t need a specific interest in autism to enjoy the storyline and to be emotionally affected by the interaction between characters.

- Hannah Coulstock is studying at an international school in Singapore. 

Find out more about the film.