Story: Loan shark "Mom" (Kim Hye-soo) buys a little girl who has been found in a coin locker as a baby. At first, Mom makes her work as a
beggar, but when Il-Yeong (Kim Go-eun) is all grown-up she has to extort money from debtors. If Mom shouldn't get her money the debtor is simply killed and
his organs are sold. Il-yeong's "family" consists of quiet guy Woo-gon (Eom Tae-goo), red-haired Ssong (Lee Soo-kyeong) and mentally handicapped
Hong-joo (Cho Hyun-chul). One day, Il-yeong is supposed to extort money from Seok-hyeon (Park Bo-geom), whose father fled the country. Seok-hyeon treats
Il-yeong completely different than what she is used to and despite repulsing him she feels good when being around him. However, Mom eventually gives the
order to kill the young man and sell his organs since his father has gone into hiding. Il-yeong can't fulfill her mother's request and revolts against
her family. A fight for survival is the result which no one would have expected the way it unfolds. One single decision makes the family drown
in a pool of violence...
Review: Gangster movies actually count among the better works coming out of South Korea. However, these days the same old motives are being
reused and thus those movies barely manage to be memorable anymore. Things are a bit different when it comes to "Coin Locker Girl", though. Suddenly a
woman stands in the spotlight of the gangster story! "Pretty simple, why didn't anyone come up with that before?", you might ask. After all, the end result
doesn't need to hide from other impressive entries in the genre and gives fresh impetus to the genre, getting us excited again. You will find reasons to like
this thriller aplenty. First, there are two great actresses who manage to give the story the necessary final touch and make the atmosphere boil over with
density. And second, the cinematography is just fantastic, making almost every single frame look like a gritty painting.
The first scene already gives us a glance into the future, showing Il-yeong lying on the floor, apparently hurt, and above her the person, a blood-dripping
knife in hand, that everyone just calls "Mom". The chemistry between the two women in that single scene gives a small preview of where the film's strength
lies. "Coin Locker Girl" is a gritty gangster drama in which "the own daughter" loses all goodwill of her mother and is abandoned by her. Of course, in the
gangster milieu this means that you are chased by murky gangsters with big knives. But things turn out to be not that simple in the end, because the
mother in fact doesn't want to kill her own child. Yet, things ultimately develop in a way they have to and a vortex of violence is pulling everyone down to
the bottom of doom.
Sure, there are parallels to "Hwayi - A Monster Boy" but even more apparent are those to
"A Bittersweet Life". Although, "Coin Locker Girl" can't really play in the same league as latter one the interpersonal
relationships are as important here and this aspect works out quite fine thanks to the actresses, too. The cinemataography manages to succeed in the same way.
The colors are sometimes a bit gaudy, after all the movie plays in China Town (which also is the film's original title), yet everything has a dark note to it,
which underlines the neo-noir nature of this picture very well. Director Han Jun-hee, who wrote the screenplay to "The Gifted
Hands", shows the kind of self-confidence in his debut work that instantly impresses. The pictures he delivers will make everyone a believer.
The director's true ace up his sleeve is Kim Hye-soo ("The Face Reader", "The Thieves"), though.
Even though being the villain she maybe has a human side to her as well - at least somewhere beneath her cold exterior - but most of the time she is extremely
cold-blooded. Kim has a questionable hair style, which probably only a great actor can manage to pull off without looking simply ridiculous (see Choi
Min-sik...), and she has a few pounds extra around her waist, even though the pads used for that illusion aren't really convincing. Also irritating is a
Yoda-quote by Mom at some point... Kim Go-eun ("A Muse", "Monster") plays the protagonist and quite
neatly so. However, she still has her best scenes with Kim Hye-soo, which proves that latter one manages to raise Kim Go-eun's level quite a bit. This is
surely a great acting experience for her. Furthermore, the mother-daughter chemistry is fascinating to watch, balancing somewhere between respect, love and
hatred, although calling it hatred can't do justice to what drives Il-yeong.
There certainly is one problem that arises with a woman being the center of events. It is more difficult to make her face off against an army of gangsters, without those scenes looking completely ridiculous if she were to survive (even male colleagues with a perfect training in melee combat are walking on very thin ice here). The solution is quite simple indeed, albeit brave: There are no action scenes! Of course, that's not entirely true, but Il-yeong remains a feeble girl in fist fights, although she turns out to be everything but weak in other respects! Yet, there are some very violent scenes involving knives, which never make you doubt the dark nature of this thriller. Only the showdown turns out to be a little bit too anticlimactic. But it's the only way the movie can work out in the end. It focuses around the drama between the two main characters while at the same time it also manages to introduce a few nice supporting characters. With or without shootouts or knife fights "Coin Locker Girl" is a genuinely gritty gangster thriller without any restraints, featuring a few surprises. The kind of thriller you wouldn't have expected coming out of Korea these days!