Korean Culture

A Girl at My Door

girlatmtdoor

Director: July Jung

Doona Bae, Sae-ron Kim, Sae-byeok Song

There is a reason why all films have long credit seequences. The list of personnel involved in making a film is invariably long and most end titles for even a modest film like this are at least 3 minutes of the film’s duration. It could also be a useful device to allow the audience to reflect on what they have seen. It may be that the only way to process something very emotional such as this film is to spend three minutes staring at a black screen before returning to the world outside.

Korean filmmakers have already proved themselves some of the best in the world such as Park Chan Wook and Kim KI-Duk. Now from first time director July Jung comes this small, perfectly judged mini-masterpiece.

Police officer Yeong-nam has been relocated from the big city to a tiny rural backwater where the locals ride tractors along a highway and spend what little free time they have in the village’s beauty salon or in the karaoke bars. It’s a small scale environment that Yeong-nam does not adjust to well. Soon she is pouring alcohol into water bottles – the only way that she can find peace and sleep at night.

Into her closed off existence comes a young girl who seems to be the town’s whipping girl. Arriving at Nam’s door, the gir reveals a history pf physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. A bond forms between them and before long they become increasingly close: shopping for clothes together, sharing meals and even sharing baths.

For a scene which shows the  opening up of the police officer, look no further than that at the half-hour mark. In this scene, we learn all we need to know about the characters’ feelings towards each other. Nam has finished cooking dinner, and we know  from her expression that the girl has not received such an act of kindness for a very long time. The TV has been on in the background and the young girl performs a K-pop style dance, revealing her childish innocence and sweetness. The camera cuts back to Nam’s reaction: a perfect expression of amusement and acceptance. Its a look that suggests she is not going to judge the girl in any way but give her the freedom to express herself in any way she can.

The performance from Bae Doona could scarcely be better. There’s not a hint of overracting in her acting, just emotional realism. Think Marion Cottillard in Six days and Seven Nights and you get an idea of the kind of pure cinema I am talking about. The young girl from Ajusshi (Jae-Ron Kim), is now a teenager, all grown up. It’s a difficult part to play when you’re only 14 yourself but somehow she comes across believably.

I was genuinely moved by the ending. Admirers of pure cinema, natural performances will surely find much to love about the film. From now on I am watching anything Doona Bae does with serious interest. And if you’re new to the world of Han cinema, what are you waiting for?

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