Thank goodness South Korea continues to blaze world cinema by making thoughtful, engaging and complex dramas like this. Refreshingly anti-Manichean and morally ambiguous, July Jung’s debut feature A Girl At My Door eschews easy, lazy categorisation, creates layered characters and defies a simplistic narrative that befouls our current cinematic landscape. In Jung’s perceived social space, there are no saints nor sinners, no victims nor perpertrators, just people with varying degress of dysfunctions and personal damages that inflict wounds on themselves and others, as well as cause pain to their collective existence. That each person bear some inherent nihilism is a testament to the economic and emotional hindrances that the people in this film suffer from.[divider]+[/divider]
Refreshingly anti-Manichean and morally ambiguous, July Jung’s debut feature A Girl At My Door eschews easy, lazy categorisation, creates layered characters and defies a simplistic narrative that befouls our current cinematic landscape.[divider]+[/divider]
All of that, of course, aren’t spelled out for you. Jung’s style adopts a certain form of understated cinema that puts the camera and direction on the backseat (no matter how measured and precise Jung’s filmmaking skills seem to be) and allows storytelling and characterisation to take the steering wheel. And this takes A Girl At My Door into places where many films dare not to tread, often dauntlessly exploring issues of social bigotry, the persecution of homosexuality and human violence that tend to bleed through communities whilst being ignored by its very citizens. It’s not immediately apparent but Jung takes on the ‘banality of evil’ case headlong in this film, setting it in a seemingly idyllic Korean province where everyday violence is taken for granted as part of daily life.
A girl is being physically abused by two generations, father and grandmother, and no one bats an eyelid. A local policeman hires and exploits illegal immigrants, and nothing is said and done. On the flipside, a female police chief officer, who happens to be a homosexual, gets frowned upon and subsequently persecuted for things she did not commit. Jung slowly and deliberately unpeels the hypocrisy and the kind of narrow-minded, systemic prejudice rooted in society, reflecting the anguished protagonist Young-Nam (Doona Bae delivering a kind of performance that speaks volumes despite saying less) and her predicament against the fools that surround her. How do you prove to society the purity of your intention of protecting a physically violated child when society itself condemns you as a sexual anomaly? And is it worth the effort explaining yourself to a bunch of morons? Perhaps not.
And where other films would righteously crusade against this kind of injustice, A Girl At My Door presents a paradox in its conflict: Young-Nam’s already perturbed life is made more convoluted when her uneasy relationship with a young waif Do-Hee is laid out in the open. Here is an adolescent, victimised by her relatives and schoolmates, wrecks masked vengeance against her tormentors in ways she knows how. Society sees her as a victim, while Young-Nam doesn’t. She sees a damaged kid, perhaps equally as damaged as her, in the same way Jung asks us to see the world not in black-and-white, but in various moral contrasts and philosophical definitions with a little bit of empathy in between.