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New Release Review - A GIRL AT MY DOOR

A cop takes a troubled young girl into her home, a decision which sees her accused of child abuse.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: July Jung

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




"July Jung makes an impressive writing and directing debut, displaying maturity in her avoidance of any showy camerawork, allowing the faces of her characters to communicate story and mood. We eagerly await her next work."





Every decade or so, the tabloid western media likes to create a boogeyman; currently it's the "swarm" of refugees intent on simultaneously stealing both our jobs and our welfare handouts. Before that we were led to believe a Freddy Krueger-esue paedophile lurked in every bush, ready to pull our kids into some alternate Poltergeist type dimension. While every parent naturally wants to be vigilant where the welfare of their offspring is concerned, the tabloids created a poisoned climate of fear, one in which paediatric clinics are firebombed by illiterate vigilantes, kids are discouraged from playing outside (ironically spending all their time on social networks where they're far more likely to encounter predators), and adults are reluctant to display any sort of affection towards other people's children for fear of being branded a 'paedo', the modern equivalent of being accused of witchcraft.
If you thought of this as a purely Western phenomena, Korean filmmaker July Jung's feature debut, A Girl at My Door, proves otherwise. Doona Bae (whom western audiences will most recognise from Cloud Atlas), is Young-Nam, a Seoul police chief transferred to a small fishing village for a year while an unspecified sex scandal blows over back in the big city. On the way to her new post, Young-Nam accidentally splashes a young teenage girl, Do-Hee (Sae-ron Kim), by driving through a puddle. Young-Nam attempts to apologise to the girl, who simply wanders off in silence. As we soon learn, a soaking is the least of Do-Hee's problems. The next day, Young-Nam finds the girl being beaten by a group of schoolmates, and that night she interrupts a trashing being administered to Do-Hee by her alcoholic father, Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok), the town thug who exploits illegal immigrants in the fishing trade.
It's here that Young-Nam's troubles begin. Yong-ha has been untroubled by the authorities prior to her arrival, thanks to his untouchable status as the one man who keeps the town's main industry afloat. He didn't lick his predilection for violent abuse off the ground though, as his mother also beats her grandchild at every given opportunity. After one attempted beating, Do-Hee's grandmother falls over a cliff. Do-Hee claims it an accident. Young-Nam isn't sure, but keeps her suspicions to herself, feeling Do-Hee's possible action justified. Blaming his daughter for his mother's death, Yong-ha escalates his beatings, leading Young-Nam to take Do-Hee into her home for her safety. The girl dotes on the police chief, but Young-Nam is uncomfortable with her affection. When Young-Nam's homosexuality is exposed, the townsfolk begin to view her relationship with the young girl in a sinister light.
A Girl at My Door would make an ideal double bill with Thomas Vinterberg's similarly themed The Hunt, and like that film, it features a knockout lead performance. Bae delivers a contender for performance of the year, a subtle turn in which the actress never once raises her voice. Her Young-Nam is a portrait in withdrawn acceptance of her fate, a broken skeleton of a former person. The only decoration in her sparse home is the police uniform she hangs as the centre-piece of her wall. When we meet her first, a local questions why she brought so many two-litre bottles of still water with her, but we later learn the bottles are secretly filled with rice wine, the consumption of which Young-Nam needs to get her off to sleep at night.
July Jung makes an impressive writing and directing debut, displaying maturity in her avoidance of any showy camerawork, allowing the faces of her characters to communicate story and mood. The premise may not be the most original, but Jung brings a very female perspective, and the Korean setting adds a curious dimension. A Girl at My Door could easily be transferred to the milieu of Nordic Noir; like Northern Europe, Korea balances social liberalism with individual repression, the latter so often leading to alcoholism. Asia has produced some of the best character dramas of recent years (Nobody's Daughter Haewon, Ilo Ilo, Like Father Like Son), and the overdue addition of a female filmmaker into this mix is a welcome one. We eagerly await Jung's next work.



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