This Charming Girl
Reviewed by Toh Hai Leong
Korean Title: Yeoja, jeong-hye
Director: Lee Yoon-ki
Writing Credits: Lee Yoon-ki
Cast - Kim Ji-soo, Hwang Jung-min
Country: South Korea
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 99 min
Lee Yoon-ki, South Korea's acclaimed film director, scripted this sensitive, intermittently ponderous debut feature, This Charming Girl. It depicts a 20-something quirky (or strange) Jeong-Hae, brilliantly portrayed by television actress Kim Ji-soo. She lives a quiet life, insular and routine which is characteristic of a postal employee in a small neighborhood post-office, somewhere in Seoul, South Korea's alienated and alienating capital.
She keeps the neat and tidy apartment by herself. So, what's so special about this attractive, kind, calm, seemingly detached and unattached young woman living in Seoul? This good-looking charmer of a reticent lass, though, is quite out of sync with normal human society. One visual clue is her false eyelash sometimes gets out of her place.
It is through some whiplash flashbacks of Jeong-Hae's encounters with others that we are given glimpses into her quiet, eccentric personality.
That she is faithful to the memory of her late artist mother. She takes on a stray, cutesy kitten she later nurses back to the pink of health. When it responds to her, she is reminded of her mothers painful death and funeral. In one scene, she is seen having a strained lunch with a boyfriend who tells her he is getting married to another woman.
He turns out to be the ex-husband she left sleeping on their conjugal night, without so much as an explanation. She seems not to be enjoying the physical sex with her amour.
One day, a shy postal customer-writer comes into her lonely life and out of caprice or due to the possibility of breaking out of her emotional blockage - her inability to love is due to the childhood trauma of sexual molestation by an older man - she invites him to dinner at her apartment.
The consequence of this prearranged date results in another botched attempt to reach out and she ends up taking care of a young alcoholic drunk in a motel room - no sex involved as the man is too drunk to hump her into physical sex.
The feline cat serves as a surrogate for a boyfriend or husband she would like to have and hold.
All in all, this "charming girl" traces, somewhat ponderously and mundanely the memories of Jeong-Hae who tries to get hold of her life and the great loss of her mother's early death, tormented by the impressionable incident of sexual molestation or rape in her childhood. All these "happpenings" in quick flashbacks, are very Freudian in nature ... and make her a withdrawn, quiet and quirkily quiet woman.
Be forewarned... Like Tsai Ming-Liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn, The Hole ... and Michelangelo Antonioni's films like L'Avventura and The Passenger ... there are long instances when very little happens ... you get to see Jeong-Hae eat a plate of noodles or play with her pet stray kitty, watch television, double-lock her door or just plain look into empty space ... and at 99 min of celluloid time, some of the mundane scenes feel like an eternity.
But this is not to discourage you to see this great little cinematic gem. This heartfelt, true and quirky debut unlike most big commercial super-stars-driven Korean films like My Sassy Girl, Joint Security Area or Gingko Bed, etc., will engage you to the understated if not powerful debutant performance of strangely attractive if not talented Kim Ji-soo who reminds me of a Korean lady I used to be gaga over!
It does not give all the answers but instead gives us a peek into an all-too-real psychological and spiritual malaise of a modern Korean woman in contemporary highly urbanized and lost Seoul [sic].
Winner of the NETPAC award at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival, the Lotus Jury Prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival 2004 with the New Currents Award's Top Prize award at the 2004's 10th Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF), This Charming Girl is something to root for and see.
It is, by far, Kim Ji-soo's outstanding big screen performance and it is a fascinating character study of an ordinary charmer of a young Korean woman who looks to heal some old psychic and spiritual wounds and come to terms with the possibilities of life and love.
Highly Recommended. It will be screened at Prince One Theatre (Shaw cinema) on Thursday 28th April 2005 at 7 p.m..