A Girl at My Door
Directed by July Jung
Starring DooNa Bae, Jang Hee-jin, Kim Sae-Ron, Moon Sung-keun and SaeByeok Song
Demoted from Seoul to serve a remote coastal village, a policewoman gets involved in the life of a teenage girl who is being abused by her stepfather.
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★★★★ review by YI JIAN on Letterboxd
Tries to not be too preachy but ultimately fails, a large sack of melodrama that is not as affecting as expected. Still, kudos for tackling a difficult subject. Elevating this film to the stratosphere is Donna Bae's heartbreaking performance, she truly can do wonders with her eyes.
★★★½ review by Carl Sandell on Letterboxd
At first glance a generic story of a troubled character seeking redemption by saving another character. It's told with a thin layer of mystery that is peeled off little by little, which keeps things interesting in spite of limited variation in actions and interactions.
The movie is focused on issues of child abuse, but is also trying to stuff incest, alcoholism, homophobia, illegal immigration and more into the same film. The end result is that most things are just pointed out as an issue and another layer in the mystery without really saying anything about them. It's probably a sign of inexperience as this is the debut of writer/director July Jung.
Luckily almost every scene features Doona Bae, who is always great. It's a very quiet and toned down performance, but the mix of sympathetic and frustrating is just right for the character. It could have been unbearable if she was more openly likeable and off-putting if she was more of an anti-hero.
Kim Sae-ron does something similar as the girl. She's a cute little girl that you want Doona Bae to protect, but there's constantly an uneasy tension because it seems as though there's more going on. The way she's presented multiple times standing outside the door in the dark with her black hair hanging down in front of her face makes her look like a ghost, which is a bit of genius.
This horror connection is the best thing as the very end gets potentially ambiguous between sappy and sinister.
★★★★ review by Wilson on Letterboxd
I was really impressed by A Girl at My Door. I never really knew where the plot was going, as the tone seemed to shift, without the film being especially twist-filled. It is a subtle trick of staging, of acting and writing. I found the two-hour run-time thoroughly engrossing and emotionally provocative. The film occasionally hits its plot points too hard, becoming quite draining by the end, as the film skips through a number of social issues - alcoholism, child abuse, sexual abuse, intolerance to homosexuality, migrant abuse - at a surprising rapid rate.
However, I found the film wonderfully directed by July Jung, she handled the material with great sensitivity, but also with solid, clear visuals. It never feels heavy-handed and never becomes a chore to watch. It is emotionally ripe and effectively mature.
The biggest plaudits should go to Doona Bae for her central performance. Doona Bae is a great actor, regularly impressing. I think she has done wonderful work for the Wachowskis: Sense8, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending; and was absolutely stand-out in Air-Doll for Hirokazu Kore-eda. She was also superb in South Korean films like Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and The Host. Her performance in A Girl at My Door is supremely nuanced. She is an actor with an amazingly low-key delivery, who never does much on screen, but always hits the correct emotional notes. There has barely been an actor who uses the technique of staring into the middle distance without blinking better. She has great eyes and is merciless at using them.
The film occasionally feels like it is going to mis-step and creep into the truly horrifying, or more horrifying anyway, but the film is restrained enough, and ends with a note of positivity, that I ended up being very impressed.
A serious, socially conscious drama, that swerves horror and melodrama by the sensitivity of the direction and superb central performance. I look forward to see what July Jung does next, and as always I look forward to watching anything Doona Bae is in.
★★★★ review by Last Caress on Letterboxd
Young-nam (Doona Bae) is a South Korean police Captain, freshly arrived at her new station amongst a small, close-knit fishing community on the southern shores of Yeosu and in total contrast to her previous post in Seoul. She didn’t apply to be stationed out in the sticks; in the wake of an internal investigation (about what exactly, we are not informed, although clues to what might have happened present themselves along the way); Young-nam has found herself removed to this place. She is introduced to bragadocious local kingpin Yong-ha (Sae-byeok Song). He’s ignorant and misogynistic from the off and, as it transpires, he’s also an alcoholic like his cantankerous mother Jum-soon (Jin-gu Kim), but the locals and indeed the constabulary pay little more than lipservice to his transgressions because of his family lobster fishing company, upon which the town depends.
Later, Young-nam happens upon a gaggle of adolescents bullying a girl (Sae-ron Kim) who reveals herself as Do-hee, stepdaughter to Yong-ha. She’s reticent and uncommunicative but she soon opens up to Young-nam; her stepfather is prone to frequent outbursts of violent drunken abuse, aimed at Do-hee ever since her mother fled the relationship.
This allegation places Young-nam in a quandary. She wants to exercise her authority as a police officer to throw the book at Yong-ha – there’s certainly plenty of substantiating evidence of abuse all over Do-hee’s battered body – but she also has to be mindful of his standing amongst the locals and of her own unfamiliarity to them, as well as her need to present a low profile to her superiors for the sake of her precarious ongoing career prospects. Still, Do-hee asks Young-nam if she can stay with her, at least over the school holiday period whilst her stepfather gets his head straight following a recent family tragedy and, whilst initially reluctant, Young-nam eventually sees this as the compromise that might just keep Do-hee safe whilst maintaining the status quo. But Young-nam has private issues of her own too which could destroy her entire life as well as put her traumatised young ward in further jeopardy…
A Girl at My Door, the debut picture from writer/director July Jung, is nominally a familiar and oft-told tale (kid needs to escape abusive domestic situation) attached to an equally familiar premise (cop winds up in sleepy suburb having fallen from grace in The Big City, seeks redemption). But it’s really as much about the things which aren’t being said as about the things which are. Do-hee, portrayed superbly by youngster Sae-ron Kim, is a study in the consequences of systematic familial abuse, and the fantastic Doona Bae (back for her first Korean feature since her 2012 Hollywood turn in The Wachowski's Cloud Atlas), presents Young-nam frequently exercising incredible emotional restraint due to the issues with which her character Young-nam is struggling, one of which is an important character twist revealed mid-movie, another of which is her own deepening alcoholism which she disguises by way of pouring all of her booze into mineral water bottles. It’s also about the nature of societal tolerance and intolerance in Korea, given both the reprehensible behaviour the townsfolk are prepared to ignore for their own material benefit and the character traits in Young-nam which appear to inspire a collective and barely-disguised seething contempt.
A Girl at My Door is shot and cut with an assured and confident hand which belies writer/director July Jung’s relative inexperience, photographed in deliberate and measured fashion typical of quality Asian cinema and demonstrating as much restraint behind the camera as Doona Bae demonstrates in front of it. And despite the slow pace of the picture, the heavy nature of its subject matter and its ever more disquieting tone, A Girl at My Door never feels ponderous. It’s not a hap-hap-happy family feelgood movie but it’s a good ‘un for sure, and comes highly recommended
★★★½ review by Lex on Letterboxd
This film was depressing as hell because the main character' intentions were purely helping the girl.
also I wanted to watch a light film with Ryn however seems my choice wasn't light: questioning the definition of light film
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