#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.
Following an untold scandal, young Lee Young-nam (Bae Doona), a low-ranking female police officer, is made to relocate to a small seaside town situated on the outskirts of South Korea. She conceals a personal agony that has led her to turn to drink for comfort, but endeavours to remain professional in her occupation. When Sun Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), a timid abused 14-year-old, runs to Young-nam for support, she feels compelled to help the girl, but their complicated relationship leads to more problems than she could have initially expected.
Korea has a reputation for producing genre-bending cinema and July Jung looks to continue that trend with A Girl at My Door, her first feature. Initially, it appears to set itself up to be a thrilling police procedural, but in reality, it uses this only as a platform to confront social and ethical issues within Korean society. Do-hee is abused by her father, and it takes Young-nam, a complete outsider, to do anything about it; and despite showing more competence in her job than anyone else, she is consistently undermined solely because of her gender. Bae, who is quickly becoming one of Asia’s finest screen actresses, gives a terrific performance as the lead, managing to convey both vulnerability and steeliness in her performance.
Her counterpart, Do-hee, is a constant enigma – she can be gloomy in one scene and playful in the next. We first catch a glimpse of her in a dainty white dress with a curtain of black hair masking most of her face – it’s a haunting image that wouldn’t seem out of place in the Ring series. The film’s visuals are deceptive, however, at times appearing like an Asian horror, and at other times resembling more like a heart-warming domestic drama. It is worth noting that there are moments where the plot can be a little contrived, but it is a testament to Jung’s ability as a filmmaker that she manages to balance all these contrasting elements without ever losing control of the tone.
Lee Chang-Dong, the director of Peppermint Candy and Poetry, takes the role of producer and you can certainly see some of his fingerprints in this picture. That doesn’t make July Jung any less of an exciting prospect, however, and the fact she can tell such an unpredictable tale without the need for sensationalism makes her debut all the more incredible.