[Moved from the Korean Korner / OP 08/08/05]
A delicate and nuanced study of self-imposed loneliness and internal suffering, This Charming Girl (Yeoja, Jeong-hye) is a confident debut feature from South Korean filmmaker Lee Yoon-ki. In the film, Lee's camera incessantly follows a twentysomething Seoul woman, Jeong-hae (a brilliant Kim Ji-soo), as she goes through her mundane daily routine which is primarily comprised of an early morning rise for a minor post-office job, regular lunches with friendly co-workers, and then a lonely walk home to her well-equipped apartment. As the films international title suggests, Jeong-hae is certainly charming but she is also a bit peculiar (which her co-worker also implies after learning that this otherwise neat woman likes second-hand smoke). Along with a few locks that decorate her apartment door, she has also instituted various alarm setups throughout her domicile even though she lives in the middle of suburbia. A few initial flashback sequences provide hints about her past: her supportive mother passed away after a painful illness, shes had a problem or two with her ex-husband. But the more deliberately intrusive Lees camera becomes, the more distant his protagonist gets. Then all of a sudden we find her in the middle of a street asking a young writer (Hwang Jung-min), a regular post-office visitor, to come over for dinner and a meeting with her newly adopted cat, the only thing shes having a hard time controlling.
Winner of awards at Deauville, Berlin and Pusan (where the film had its premiere), this reticent, minimalist gem was shot hand-held by Lee, but it features a cool, bright look, much like its leading lady. It's quite refreshing to see this almost "feminist" film from a country which has exported an abundance of nihilistic masochism in recent years. As the final few somewhat awkwardly paced flashbacks convey the reason behind her current state, the film grows in immediacy and ultimately comes to quite a head. This Charming Girl certainly features some European art-house influences, none more so than in the final sequence where it becomes obvious that new filmmakers like Lee have already started paying homage to the Dardennes.
*Available on English-subtitled Korean (Region-3/NTSC) DVD from Spectrum.