A Girl at My Door

A Girl at My Door, the remarkable first feature film from Korean director July Jung is a brave and sharply observed drama about the ugly side of small town prejudices and thought-provoking inconvenient truths. 

We are introduced to a seaside fishing village on the Korean coast through the eyes of a newly arrived police chief, Young-nam from the capital city of Seoul.  She comes with her own psychological baggage after being reassigned but is determined to keep a low profile until she can return to the city.

This exceptional film keeps us completely entranced by the intensely captivating performances of Doona Bae as the new police chief and the story of a sullen ten year old girl, Do-Hee, who she finds wandering through the village late at night.

Curious about this glum girl’s strange behavior in her tattered clothes, Young-nam soon finds herself running to Do-Hee’s defense when the local kids, her drunken stepfather and crazy grandmother are regularly seen beating and abusing the defenseless girl.

There are many social issues that are touched on in this film about domestic violence and the state’s responsibility to protect children from abusive families. Korean films in general are well known for making jabs at Government incompetency and this film is no exception. 

The story is carefully set up from Young-nam’s perspective and we slowly discover more about the psychological damage the girl has suffered as she comes to seek refuge with the new police chief who is forced to take her in for a while to protect her from the village and her family.

Doona Bae brings the same intensity and piercing stare that she brought to her bow and arrow wielding character in The Host (2006). She is mesmerizing as we watch her battle with her inner conflicts and the town’s local bullies who seem to take pleasure in abusing the motherless Do-Hee.

Much like the fishing villages of Newfoundland that was so beautifully portrayed recently in The Grand Seduction (2014), A Girl at My Door was filmed in actual fishing villages around the Korean coastline and we get a sense of these insular communities and the small town politics that prevail there. 

Do-Hee quickly flourishes under Young-nam’s loving care and grows into a happy child over the summer vacation, but she must eventually return to her own home. And when Young-nam’s past comes back to haunt her, the only one who can protect the vulnerable Do-Hee is eventually arrested and the desperate girl is forced to take matters into her own hands.

The film makes a powerful statement about how the social system, like any government agency, fails the people they are there to protect in spite of their best intentions and is vulnerable to manipulation. 

July Jung is a powerful new voice in Korean cinema who I anticipate will be a force to watch. One of the best films at TIFF14.


1 comment:

Shiran said...

Looks like another in the series of excellent South Korean movies that have been released recently. Looks like a must see.