By Amy Dunning
Directed by July Jung
Beautifully filmed in rural South Korea, A Girl at My Door follows policewoman Young-Nam as she is relocated to a small fishing village and becomes intertwined with a young girl and her abusive father, Yong-Ha. Played by Doona Bae, Young-Nam is a striking vision of female authority, her fierce no-nonsense attitude is hinted to be a cover for an equally complicated past, and she uses it as a mechanism to intervene into a dominatingly patriarchal society. The new town she moves to first appears to the viewer as a pastoral idyll, yet as the small town politics reveal themselves, a darker and more dysfunctional side reveals itself as Young-Nam investigates Yong-Ha played by Sae-byeok Song.
July Jung, one of a few Korean female writers and directors, carefully reveals the vulnerability of young women by navigating contemporary social problems including domestic abuse, abandonment and homosexuality. When the two young women are flung together they are able to intimately investigate their own troubled pasts. Alcoholism plagues Young-Nam throughout the story, using it as a sedative to encourage her to sleep and forget her previous misconduct, as well as seeing it materialise in the abuse the young girl receives when her father is drunk. Despite a thin background explanation of Young-Nam, the film does not lose out because Bae carries the picture with her powerfully dynamic performance. Silent close-ups of her taking a drink after a particularly difficult day, or with her eyes closed in the bath work wonders at portraying her vulnerability and also her inability to cope with her past. Young-Nam’s homosexuality complicates the plot further, and although no characters in the film openly disapprove of her lifestyle, it is apparent that it is largely frowned upon.
Interspersed with moments of high tension, and silent long camera shots, this film is gripping from start to finish. Young-Nam has very little dialogue throughout the film, which contrasts starkly to Yong-Ha and his mother who cannot complete a sentence without swearing or vulgarity. From the outset, Young-Nam is an outsider who is unable to comprehend a society that enables such abuse of the law to occur. Criminal gang-leader Yong-Ha has the protection of the police until Young-Nam unearths the abuse he inflicts upon his daughter. Cleverly edited, the film enables the viewer to become engrossed in the personal lives of both Young-Nam and the girl. The violence that flows throughout the film does not overwhelm the subplots, but instead enables them to flourish, revealing deep and well-developed characters.
Amazing performances are given by all three leads. Sae-ron Kim is particularly moving as the young girl, resonating with the audience after viewing. The success of this film comes in the abused characters’ abilities to move beyond their classification as ‘victim’. Their emotional journeys are played out before our eyes as we discover that there is no innocence left in the child. They learn, and they grow from their troubled pasts. Kim;s spectacular portrayal of the abused girl leaves the audience wondering what will happen as this child grows. Are the years of domestic abuse reversible or will she carry those scars for the rest of her life? Despite its dense subject matter, this film is a refreshing attempt to highlight the injustices that occur at the hands of alcoholism and domestic abuse, topics which although placed in Korea, could just as well have been applied to any other country in the world.
Read our interview with actress Doona Bae here.
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