Festival film review: This Charming Girl

by Robert Cottingham on 23 November, 2018

in Event reports and reviews | Film reviews and comment | London Korean Film Festival

Lee Yoon-ki (이윤기) This Charming Girl (여자, 정혜, 2004, 99 mins).
Review by Robert Cottingham.

This Charming Girl

You know how people talk about reality TV, even though there is nothing ‘real’ about it? Well, if you wanted to see actual reality, the sheer day-to-day mundane-ness of the average person’s life, then this film is the closest you can get, save for drilling a peep-hole into your neighbour’s living room. Your tolerance for this film will greatly depend on how much you can enjoy a film without having every thing spelled out for you in the equivalent of ten foot signs.

The girl of the film’s title is so lonely that she finds herself talking to drunks in bars, and spends her weekends laying on the sofa staring at the TV screen, whilst her mother talks about her as though she isn’t even in there. The film paints a portrait of someone who has retreated from life and is a recluse, but what has made her this way? At various moments the film relates in fragments what happened in her past to make her act this way.

The director provides just enough to give us an understanding of her life. but he doesn’t tell us everything at once, so we need to be really on guard. I fear that some inattentive viewers will miss some of the subtle nuances of the film because it is so carefully made and the camera work is very non-typical, often making use of unusual close-ups.

The story is very slight, showing the daily domestic and working life of Jeong-hae. Her job at the post office is not much in the way of job satisfaction, and she has little interest in socializing with her colleagues. Two events change her life for the better, but it happens slowly and the film’s conclusion is hopeful but hardly a conventional happy ending.

The film was released in 2004, when the most popular film in Korea was Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Comparing the two, it’s interesting that in Korea critics preferred Lee Young Ae, when its Kim Ji Su who comes across as the better actor. I would love to see some more of her films, but her movie appearances are rare. It was director Lee Yoon-ki’s first film and he went on to make Come Rain, Come Shine and A Man and a Woman. Now would be an excellent opportunity for a retrospective of his work. Perhaps next year?

This Charming Girl screened as part of the Slice of Everyday Life strand in the London Korean Film Festival 2018

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