Young-nam is a high functioning alcoholic. That alone would not derail her police
career. After all, most big city forces have plenty of the low functioning
variety. However, a scandal in her personal life had to be swept under the rug.
As part of her rehabilitation, she must serve as a coastal fishing village’s
station chief for one year. The last thing she needs is trouble, but when she
gets personally involved with an abused school girl, conflict becomes
inevitable in July Jung’s A Girl at My
screens as part of the 2015 Asian American International Film Festival in New
is painfully reserved and socially awkward. The way she secretly stashes gin or
vodka in water bottles does not look particularly healthy either. As soon as
she sees the scrawny, conspicuously bruised Do-hee, she recognizes a fellow
underdog. Lee proactively intervenes when Do-hee is bullied by classmates, but
it is harder to protect her from her “guardians,” her resentful stepfather Park
Yong-ha and his cruel, half-senile mother.
the wheeler-dealer is considered one of the few viable employers in the
economically depressed township, so moving against him would be a tricky
proposition, even for a copper with a spotless record. Nevertheless, after interrupting
an especially vioent beating and seeing the marks left by subsequent assaults, Lee
reluctantly shelters the emotionally broken girl in her own home. Obviously,
this will be a problematic arrangement.
though Do-Hee quickly bonds with Lee, both carry extensive baggage that will
complicate and hinder their relationship. The loathsome Park is also constantly
turning up the pressure on Lee. Many times, she decides to wash her hands of
Do-hee and Park, until a fresh outrage revives her indignation. Unfortunately, when
a face from her scandalous past briefly visits, it gives him plenty of ammunition.
Door is light-years
removed from a simplistic celebrations of innocent victims triumphing over adversity.
In this story, there is darkness in everyone’s heart. It is also unusually nerve-wracking
for a message-driven family abuse drama. Frankly, it is the sort of film that
would make Oprah what’s-her-name’s head explode, which is a perfectly good
reason to support its screenings.
is also an enormously compelling film. Produced by art-house stalwart Lee
Chang-dong, Door is just as much a
gritty thriller as it is a work of social criticism. It is quite notable how
many hot button issues Jung addresses, including child abuse, alcoholism,
homosexuality, crony corruption, the exploitation of illegal migrant workers,
and the shortcomings of the Korean justice system. Yet, each potentially controversial
plot point flows seamlessly from the central narrative, rather than feeling
tacked on for the sake of statement-making.
regular Bae Doo-na takes her craft to a whole new level, basically ripping our
souls out in the process with her quietly harrowing depiction of Lee. Watching
her face, you can plainly see how much it hurts to be that repressed and
alienated. Likewise, young Kim Sae-ron (who is amassing quite a resume,
including the Lee Chang-dong produced A
Brand New Life and the breakout action hit, The Man from Nowhere) viscerally conveys the physical and
psychological trauma of abuse.
In an impressive debut, Jung takes the audience
on a dark, twisty ride, while never watering down the narrative’s implications
or taking any easy outs. It is tough stuff, but it latches onto viewers like a
vice. Very highly recommended, A Girl at
My Door screens tomorrow (7/26) at the Village East, as part of this year’s
Labels: AAIFF '15, Bae Doo-na, Korean Cinema, Lee Chang-dong