Prostitution advocates often like to make a point of the fact that, theoretically at least, the act of selling one's body for sex is a victimless crime. Johns are, far from hideous monsters, for the most part normal men with no violent inclinations. "Samaria" takes this well-minded conceit and twists it into a powerful film of terrifying horror. Yes, that's right, any man, maybe a family man, or a co-worker, or an artist- all of them might think that paying to have sex with a minor is a fun casual jaunt, just so long as there's a positive tone about the proceedings.
Director Kim Ki-duk doesn't bother with grotesque imagery here- for once, he doesn't need to. The villain here isn't the brutality people show to each other, it's the terrifying realization that so much base evil is essentially brought about by well-meaning naivete. The main character is a child. She has a small, barely developed body, and is constantly framed in crouching playful, even cute positions that emphasize this. Adult makeup isn't enough to disguise that fact.
Yet she can still agree to sex, and it's here that the emotional horror in "Samaria" reaches its apex. Her ideas about sex and spirituality are perfectly sound from a New Age perspective, and it certainly seems like she believes they work, so they do. But it's inescapable that from the perspective of the johns, this is all completely meaningless. The situation for them is a dream come true. I realized in a burst why it is that pedophiles are drawn to young girls, and let me tell you. Being inside a pedophile's head? That's a far, far more terrifying place to be than any shock horror film.
But don't be misled into thinking "Samaria" is just about sex. This film is also immensely concerned with the honor we pay to the dead- or fail to. Late in the film, one character makes an apparently innocuous statement about Saint Maria. It takes a moment for the full weight of this to sink in. Purity is not, in fact, a state of mind. It's a subjective evaluation. Trying to emulate our heroes is probably the single best way to dishonor them, because whatever they were attempting to do, it wasn't to be somebody they weren't.
The worst part about the mistakes presented in this film is that there simply isn't any ideal solution to the sequence of events presented. We can try to ignore the broader reality and live life like normal, but having seen what happens in the non-idealized world of prostitution, and realizing that the current situation has been created by cultural undertones that are literally everywhere...what else is there to feel but disgust and hatred?
For what it's worth, the characters in "Samaria" do finally arrive at a sort of peace with the actions they've committed. But they never find what they were really after. Whether it be Europe or just a better life, the truth is these were all just mere fantasies and illusions, fleeting attempts at a sense of purpose. In this way "Samaria" becomes a truly powerful and terrifying coming of age story. Across generations, the rupturing of a disconnected abstract ideological form of life is the worst part of coming to terms with the real world.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Samaria""
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