July Jung’s first feature movie revolves around Young-Nam (Bae Doo-na), a policewoman, who is temporally transferred from Seoul to the police station of a small seaside village, habitable mostly by elderly citizens. As soon as she arrives, she confronts schoolgirl Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), who not only is bullied by her classmates but also she is a victim of abuse by her alcoholic stepfather Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok). One night, Do-hee runs to Young-nam’s door, searching for protection from her abusive stepfather. Young-Nam, feeling sympathy for the young girl, takes her under her protection until the new school year, despite the demands of Do-hee’s stepfather to return home. Things get complicated when Yong-ha sees Young-Nam kissing her ex-girlfriend and he uses her homosexuality against her.
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From the movie’s summary, it becomes apparent that this is a melodrama, but as the story unfolds and comes to a turning point, the film tries to balance between melodrama and thriller. This combination could have worked, but the link between the two genres fails. Moreover, the screenwriter and director July Jung tries to highlight some of the flaws of the Korean culture and society, namely alcoholism, illegal immigration and homophobia, though she only touches the surface.
Bae Doo-na as Young Man and Kim Sae-ron as Do-hee earned several awards for their performances even though the character’s personalities that they portray are difficult to read and to sympathize. Young-Nam is an upright police officer despite being relocated and her personal life is the obstacle for the development of her career. She fights her own demons but seems that she does not grasp the consequences of her actions or deliberately ignores them, especially during her final decision. As for Do-hee, the method that she chooses to protect and help Young-Nam and at the same time punish Yong-ha, is the most controversial one and this does not leave any margin to completely side with her and with her desire to love and be loved.
Subsequently, the characters that earn the viewer’s heart are the secondary ones. These are the immigrants and specifically the police officers who appear to be non-corrupt – a rare occasion for Korean films. In this fashion, the most heart-warming scene is the one in temporary cells in the police station. In this scene, the tearful eyes of a beaten and blood-covered illegal immigrant as soon as he sees Young-nam, speak volumes.
Regardless the aforementioned drawbacks in the building of the characters, July Jung establish herself as a skillful director and she fairly won several awards as a new director. Furthermore, the beautiful cinematography by Kim Hyun-suk provides some breathtaking views of the Korean countryside.
“A Girl at my Door” has an interesting plot, but sadly ends with more questions than answers. However, it’s worth taking a chance to view this movie, due to its important social commentary and the presentation of flawed characters as no one is completely at fault or completely innocent.