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A Girl at My Door - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Do-hee ya

South Korea 2014

Drama, Thriller

Jeong Joo-ri

Bae Doo-na
Kim Sae-ron
Song Sae-byeok
Kim Jin-goo
Son Jong-hak
Na Jong-min
Gong Myeong
Kim Jong-goo
Jang Hee-jin

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A Girl at My Door

Story: Lee Young-nam (Bae Doo-na) is a policewoman and as punishment for inappropriate behavior is transfered to a village. The village consists of almost only old people because every young man and woman has migrated to the big city. Only Park Yong-ha (Song Sae-byuk) and some of his Southeast-Asian workers keep the fishing business alive in the village. Yong-ha also has a stepdaughter, Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), who Young-nam is constantly running into. Apparently she is beaten by her stepfather and also gets bullied by her classmates. One day she turns up at Young-nam's doorstep, because the police officer has offered her help if she ever would be beaten again. Doo-hee stays at Young-nam's for a while, although the policewoman has her own share of problems and can't fall asleep without some drinks in the evening.
Yong-ha is always drunk and his mother is also causing problems on a daily basis. However, not everyone likes to see Young-nam cleaning up the village a bit since Yong-ha and his immigrant workers are important for the village. Meanwhile, Do-hee starts to see not only a mother figure in the police officer, but also a strong individual that gives her strength.

Review: A drama about domestic violence and alcohol addiction can't really be called original, but "A Girl at My Door" showcases the kind of captivating drama that we know from Korean cinema's heyday: unsophisticated and profound. Furthermore, the movie might at first look like art house cinema, but after only a short while it turns out that the pacing isn't nearly as slow as we know from those movies and the cinematography also manages extremely well to capture the rural feel of the location and accordingly also does remind us a bit of "Memories of Murder". This may also be due to the fact that the film doesn't just present itself as a drama, but at times also looks a bit like a mystery flick. Because the alleged quiet community follows its own set of rules and doesn't really like interference from the outside.

A Girl at My Door - Film Screenshot 11

Additionally, the characters remain mysterious at times as well. Their background stories naturally can't be displayed on screen in full, but a little bit more information about their past would have been desireable, nonetheless - particularly in the case of Young-nam. Doo-hee is supposed to lose a bit of her innocence later on in the film and become more intransparent. That is a bold decision, yet it pays off, especially since most reasons for what happens fall to your own interpretation. Despite a slight mystery touch "A Girl at My Door" clearly is a drama. Pivot being the relationship between the policewoman and the girl. Young-nam is the first person Do-hee can truely confide in since - contrary to the village residents - she isn't shutting her eyes when it comes to the abuse she suffers at the hands of her father.

A Girl at My Door - Film Screenshot 12

The police officer isn't just a mother substitute, but also shows her a new way of self-realization. She doesn't have to remain the feeble girl who is always the victim, but can become as strong and self-confident as Young-nam one day. Here, the inherent motive of tradition vs. modern times becomes visible as well. Young-nam is an authority figure from the big city which is why the village community is forced to accept her. But in reality the villagers would like nothing more than to administer the village according to their own rules. The illegal immigrants who are more or less keeping business alive in the village all by themselves are another aspect that brings some color into the movie. Next to the drama themes like rural depopulation or migration are tackled in an advantageous fashion and thus create a very vivid picture of the village, making it almost a protagonist of the film itself.

However, the film's heart is Bae Doo-na ("Air Doll", "The Host"), who gives a very multylayered performance, even though the has to work on a very subtle level. Her alcohol addiction and the story behind it, her lesbian relationship, making homosexuality in Korea another one of the drama's themes, and her relationship to Do-hee are very often only hinted at and demand an experienced actress. But not only Bae Doo-na delivers a great performance. Kim Sae-ron ("The Man From Nowhere", "A Brand New Life") has a few very strong moments as well. Moreover, the drama sometimes is pretty disturbing, too, as one scene between Do-hee and her stepfather lying in bed together is proof of. And this isn't the kind of abuse that you probably think of when reading this scene's description.

A Girl at My Door - Film Screenshot 13

Female director Jeong Joo-ri succeeds in creating a drama standing up for women's rights without appearing ulta-feminist. The subtle approach of the director shines through in all of the themes which she skillfully blends, while keeping the relationship between Young-nam and Do-hee as an anchor at all times. The at times peaceful images of the village and countryside are looking very nice and the screenplay is always providing us with new developments to avoid boredom creeping in. Therefore, "A Girl at My Door" will also appeal to an audience that normally can't warm up to art house movies. However, there is one fly in the ointment: for cinematic purposes a predicament is created towards the end that seems rather implausible considering Do-hee's intellect which becomes especially apparent when solving the problem. But apart from that "A Girl at My Door" is a drama that oozes out the kind of magic Korean movies had back in the day and which you actually don't get to see very often nowadays.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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