Screening at the 2015 Mardi Gras Film Festival. For festival tickets and session details visit the official website HERE.
Faced with the choice between lover or career, she chooses career, because her lover is a woman and that love will end her career. This is the unfairness of life for Young-nam (Bae Doona) in A Girl at My Door. A career in the police force is a lifestyle not a job, and she chooses to play society’s game and hide her sexuality. Young-nam moves to a quaint seaside village in remote South Korea to lay low, restore her reputation and get over her lover. But life continues to present those moral dilemmas in one form or another, until they have to be addressed head on.
Will Young-nam choose life or will she remain in denial?
For lovers of Korean and Japanese films there is no need to introduce Bae Doona, she is a veteran actor and western cinephiles may know her from the Wachowski’s epic Cloud Atlas. If she was missed amongst that star-studded cast then A Girl at My Door should help get the highly talented actor noticed. The film takes us on a harrowing tale of child abuse, prejudice and a good dose of revenge. This is a rich vehicle for a complex exploration of love and trust in a community that never really accepts her. There are many big themes in this cracking yarn, and having premiered at Cannes in 2014 is a triumphant feature directorial debut for July Jung (Jung Joo Ri), but it’s not for the fainthearted.
Young-nam’s arrival and new role as the local Chief of Police creates waves right from the onset. Her colleagues are not used to their chief being a she, nor are the villagers. As she finds her feet she befriends the town outcast, a teenage girl who is bullied by one and all. Dohee (Kim Sae Ron), the namesake of the Korean title (Dohee-Ya), is a young teenage girl who lives with her abusive step-father (Song Sae Byeok) and her vile grandmother (Kim Jin Goo). She is beaten and abused in equal amounts by both of them, and her school life isn’t much better. Her life is filled with physical and verbal violence that has no respite and even those in town who sympathise with her dismiss this treatment as parental discipline. But the chief brings fresh eyes to a rotten situation and she becomes the only one who stands up for Dohee, she is her champion.
Alcohol plays a pivotal role in this film. Dohee’s father and grandmother are heavy drinkers and the police often excuse their actions as a result of intoxication. When the chief goes home, she also drinks copious amounts of soju (Korean liquor), which she decants into large water bottles so as not to arouse suspicion. If we judge Dohee’s family because of their drinking, we have to take down the chief too. The film plays with our prejudices.
When Granny is killed in a motor vehicle crash and Dad goes on a mournful bender, Young-nam finds Dohee knocking on her door and takes her in. It’s at this point that we begin to understand the full extent of the abuse Dohee has seen. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the chief asks her to stay until the end of the holidays, when things will have calmed down. Dohee’s home life is a pitiful situation, but is this intervention a ray of hope?
The film evolves into a discussion on sexuality, family ties, and societal expectations. As the relationship between Young-nam and Dohee develops, the film’s darker thriller elements begin to emerge. The final act, bringing on a plot twist and some sweet revenge, sees prejudices and judgments come tumbling down and at least some humanity prevail. Life is never as simple as black and white.
This film is a cracker and a roller coaster of emotions; it holds the mirror up to the viewer and forces us to question our belief systems, prejudices and judgments. A Girl at My Door is a fantastic example of the great cinema that is consistently emerging from South Korea and, far from being colloquial, it truly addresses some universal issues.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10