A Girl at My Door
Monday 13th October, 6.15pm – Rich Mix
Thursday 16th October, 1pm – ICA
Bae Doona plays Officer Lee Young-nam, the new chief of police in a rural South Korean village in this debut feature from writer July Jung. More used to the bright lights of Seoul, Young-nam is an outsider to village life, the only woman in the station, and 20 years younger than all of her staff. She’s been transferred here to lay low for a while due to an incident back home. She’s a troubled soul, drinking vast quantities of Soju every evening in order to sleep.
She quickly makes a name for herself, running into trouble with Park Hong-ya (played by Song Sae-byeok), a local, semi-criminal business owner for whom the lax approach of the village police is most welcome. On her first night, Young-nam arrests him after witnessing him attacking his stepdaughter, Seon Do-hee. Do-hee is the village scapegoat, and is abused by everyone, even her own grandmother, who refers to her only as “mutt” or “bitch”.
After spending the night at the station, Hong-ya is unrepentant. Despite repeated warnings, he continues to drunkenly beat his stepdaughter every night, until she runs away to Young-nam’s doorstep, who agrees to take her in and protect her.
It’s an icy, surgical look at South Korean society, critiquing its intolerance and sexism. The first 45 minutes of the film lead you to suspect a fairly straightforward, redemptive tale as the two women find comfort and common ground with each other. But when Hong-ya discovers the reason Young-nam had to leave Seoul, he exploits the vindictive, collective mistrust prevalent in rural village life to turn the residents against her, and have her arrested on fictitious child abuse charges, in scenes reminiscent of the moral panic of Thomas Vinterberg’s 2012 film The Hunt.
There’s an uneasy, unsettling undertone throughout the film, particularly around Do-hee, played brilliantly by Kim Sae-ron. Hong-ya warns Young-nam that the girl is disturbed and not as innocent as she appears, and as the credits roll we’re left wondering – Sae-ron brings a damaged, hysterical skittishness to the role, leaving us unable to fully trust her. When her grandmother is killed in an apparent automotive accident, we’re never quite sure the extent of Do-hee’s involvement.
It’s ever so slightly too long, and some scenes feel repeated more than is necessary, but this is a minor criticism. This is a sophisticated, subtle and disturbing drama.
A Girl at My Door is released in the UK on 13th October 2014.
For further information about the BFI London Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.
Watch the trailer for A Girl at My Door here: