A GIRL AT MY DOOR (South Korea/TBC/119mins)
Directed by July Jung. Starring Doona Bae, Sae-ron Kim, Sae-byeok Song, Hie-jin Jang
THE PLOT: When Police Chief Young-nam (Doona Bae) is transferred to a small Korean seaside town, she almost immediately meets two of the town’s most notorious residents; Park Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok) and his mother Park Jeom-soon (Kim Jin-gu). Soon afterwards, Young-nam meets the emotionally troubled, bullied and beaten Seon Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron) and finds herself getting involed in the young girl’s life.
THE VERDICT: ‘A Girl at My Door’ is a slow moving but engrossing film, that has touches of Lolita about it, in all the most disturbing ways. Doona Bae is the emotional heart and soul of the film, and carries the story ably. Bae’s performance is subtle and understated, with the audience learning more about her as her past catches up with her. Kim Sae-ron is wonderfully innocent and disturbing as the young girl who Young-nam takes under her wing, and is as inscrutable as she is manipulative.
July Jung’s story is slow moving yet engrossing, with the relationship between the two women being given centre stage in the film. Camaraderie and friendship give way to anger and suspicion, before Do-hee finally reveals just how manipulative she can be. As director, Jung allows the story to unfold on screen, without the need for clunky exposition or rousing speeches. The audience is allowed to feel Young-nam’s depression and despair before finding out the cause of it, and we are taken on a journey with the two women at the heart of the film as their relationship grows and changes. The denouement of the film is shocking as it is troubling, but audience sympathy is firmly with Young-nam and her young charge; such is the power of their performances.
In all, ‘A Girl at My Door’ is a tale of friendship, dependency, violence and manipulation, brilliantly told by July Jung. There are times when the film loses steam – mostly when the focus shifts from Young-nam and Do-hee – but the final 20 minutes of the film is gripping, heartbreaking but oddly uplifting.
Review by Brogen Hayes

A Girl at My Door
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Gripping & heartbreaking
  • filmbuff2011

    South Koreans rarely make bad films (well, with the exception of the risible Moebius). The debut feature of July Jung, A Girl At My Door keeps up the trend with a challenging but rewarding film. Young-Nam (Doona Bae) is a police chief who has been re-assigned to a small provincial fishing town. The reason why this has happened is kept in the dark until later in the story. Over the course of a few days, she sees teenage girl Do-Hee (Kim Sae-ron) running through the town in a distressed state. She’s being harassed and physically abused by both her grandmother and her monstrous bully of a father Yong-Ha (Song Sae-byeok). Concerned at what is happening, she befriends Do-Hee. Then Do-Hee turns up on Young-Nam’s doorstep, shortly after her grandmother dies in an apparent accident. The vulnerable Do-Hee needs urgent help, particularly when Young-Nam discovers nasty bruises on her back. She provides a refuge for the girl, who slowly ingratiates herself into Young-Nam’s life. This raises the suspicions of the locals and her own colleagues within the police force, who suspect their friendship may be more than just friendly… Told with urgency and delicate, careful consideration, Jung’s script is strong on character. She delves deeply into the complex interactions between Young-Nam and Do-Hee, emphasising the surrogate mother and lost child roles – a sort of Ripley and Newt, if you will. It’s a far more detailed story than initially appears, told with discretion but also with some uneasy scenes that might put some viewers off. There are good intentions in this story though, as it is ultimately about a vulnerable child being mis-treated by adults who should know better. The real evil is Yong-Ha, though Do-Hee is not past manipulating others too. Bae, recently seen in Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, is excellent in the lead role. Sae-Ron handles some difficult scenes with ease – she’s fully aware of what her character is going through. Jung shows great promise as a director and this commendable debut should certainly send her on her way to stardom. ****