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Sensitive 'Girl' Quietly Charms

2005/03/11 | 171 views | Permalink | Source

By Philip Dorsey Iglauer
Contributing Writer

"Yeojah, Jeong-hye (This Charming Girl)" begins with the heroine (Kim Ji-soo) cleaning the patio of her home, tending and watering her plants, delicately wiping the floor. Jeong-hye, 29, works at a local post office. She lives quietly, self-exiled to an interior, feminine world, a present life deeply affected by the psychological wounds of her past.

She is eccentric like a character from a Murakami Haruki story, and inhabits a world controlled by strong memories. But she is also trapped there in a state of emotional uncertainty, quiet and fearful of the world outside. She spends hours watching the home shopping network and annoys her friends by insisting on going to the same restaurant no matter what. Even though her habits are eccentric, they are immediately accessible.

We peer into the life of an average woman in contemporary Seoul. She recoils from the objectifying, masculine exterior world and prefers the comfort of her domestic one.

She struggles to solve her interior problems by keeping to herself. But her efforts are futile, and she will eventually have to open up if she is to survive. She slowly works to extricate her scarred psyche and repression.

The film's pace is too slow to be commercial, but is crucial to portray the anxiety with which Jeong-hye struggles. The subtle coordination between Kim Ji-soo's strong performance and director Lee Yoon-ki's unpolished cinematography accomplishes this. Though we are made to expect something violent and terrible will happen, nothing does. Instead, our attention is directed to Jeong-hye and why she feels so insecure.

One day, she finally summons the courage to invite a regular post office customer, a shy writer, to dinner. Their encounters are delicate and cautious. When he stands her up and offers a lame excuse, she has to decide whether to believe him.

The movie purposefully leaves us hanging because the story centers on her character's development. The conclusion of her love interest is superfluous.

Lee's style is reminiscent of Hong Sang-soo. But Lee utilizes his craft for a diametrically opposite effect. In Hong's last work, "Woman Is the Future of Man", machismo and banality debases the surrounding relationships and finally reduces the two male characters to nihilistic apathy. Lee employs a similar style to explore a melancholic world from a quirky feminine perspective.

"Yeojah Jeong-hye", which won the New Currents Award at last year's Pusan International Film Festival, is a sensitive character study. In his directorial debut, Lee demonstrates a very restrained style portraying a woman's psychological wounds and shows a gift for exploring this subdued and internally conflicted character.

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