July Jung’s A Girl at my Door shocked, moved, and enthralled me in equal measure. It is both a cri de coeur against all forms of violence against women, child abuse, and prejudice against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community, and a foreshadowing of more great work to come from its debuting writer-director.
The film starts with Young-nam, a female cop played by South Korean Bae Doona, having been reassigned to a rural post under murky circumstances. Notwithstanding the cloud of suspicion that surrounds her, she is clearly a good, experienced cop who quickly becomes an effective police chief for the town. Thus, she is compelled to act when she notices that the teenage girl Dohee (Kim Sae-ron) is being continuously abused by her stepfather. While Dohee’s father is clearly deserving of a stint in jail and Dohee of being cared for by child services, the authorities are hamstrung by the father’s status as the biggest employer in town as well as the fact that the girl’s mother has left town and shows no signs of returning. Young-nam becomes a de facto mother to Dohee, setting up a string of unforeseen consequences.
What sticks out about the film is that the director keeps a tight rein on its tone, which stops it from veering into cheap melodrama even as the script takes detours through some dark alleys. Secondly, despite her skillful portrayal of all of the complicated motivations behind the characters’ actions, Jung posits a solution made that much more eloquent and moving because it is simple: Young-nam’s and Dohee’s love for each other is something worth cherishing, celebrating, and the only thing that amounts to more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.