By Adam Turner @
July Jung’s dark drama, A Girl at My Door, explores the troubled lives of two forlorn souls living in a sleepy fishing village in South Korea. Young-nam (Doona Bae) is a dejected police academy officer who has been transferred from Seoul to Yeosu after an unexplained ‘police misconduct’. Much to her surprise, she becomes a knight in shining armour to Dohee’s (Kim Sae Ron), a local teenager whose life is riddled with torment and misery.
In this harrowing tale, made up of lots of poignant twists and turns, sultry Young-nam is the newly-appointed chief of Yeosu, which, but for a few local drunks, appears to be a relatively quiet seaside town. Except nothing ever is quite as straightforward as it appears on the surface, and it doesn’t take eagle-eyed Young-nam long to unearth some of the town’s sinister truths. One man in particular has a lot to hide.
That man is Yong-ha (Song Sae Byuk), the town rogue, who also happens to be Dohee’s stepfather. To the untrained eye, he’s nothing but a harmless drunk who has the local police wrapped around his little finger. Although, Yong-nam is not convinced and she’s certainly not prepared to dance to the beat of his drum. The two lock horns immediately and Young-nam soon begins to pry deeper into his private life.
Her hunch appears correct and she soon discovers Yong-ha (and his equally unpleasant mother) bully and torture young Dohee behind closed doors. Unfortunately for the timid youngster, she has no one left to turn to with her mother – who fled the town mysteriously – out of the picture. This disappearance appears to be what is at the epicentre of Yong-ha’s anger and resentment towards young Dohee.
Luckily, the distressed teenager finds some decree of salvation when Young-nam comes to her aid. First stopping school bullies abusing her on the street, and secondly, freeing her from a life of suffering at the hands of her violent guardians. This doesn’t wash well with Yong-ha who becomes alarmingly more menacing. Though, his hostility does nothing but help the two fuel a strong, affectionate bond.
When Young-nam takes Dohee into her home, it soon becomes apparent that Yong-ha is not prepared to let his daughter live happily ever after – and this is when the film takes a turn down a unexpected road. Victim Dohee trades places with her old man and soon becomes the tale’s manipulating puppet master. To the astonishment of Young-nam, she hastily manoeuvres her way to a more peaceful future – taking vengeance and ruining lives along the way.
Despite a number of stomach turning sequences, interestingly, the film’s cinematography remains aesthetically beautiful, which works incredibly well. Credit also goes out to Bae (Yong-nam) in her first mature role. Despite a slow start, her performance gradually builds momentum as the film’s plot thickens. However, it is 15-year-old Kim who impresses most and she’s utterly convincing in her role as a lonely, borderline psychotic teen in search of security. This girl definitely has a promising acting future ahead.
Jung’s Pandora’s box of a film is both visually stunning and painfully distressing – not an easy watch on a balmy Sunday afternoon. The pace is slow throughout and it’s possibly a tad too long, but the ending is definitely worth sticking around for.
A Girl At My Door is released in cinemas 18th September