August 2, 2005
This Charming Girl, 2004
In 2003, South Korean filmmaker Park Ki-yong followed up his atmospheric and textural debut feature film Motel Cactus with the even more haunting, visually austere, and understated Camel(s), a film that subtly, but incisively, articulates the desperateness of (failed) connection between two emotionally unfulfilled people through ordinary gestures, uncomfortable silence, and anonymous - and ultimately empty - encounters. Lee Yoon-ki's equally muted film, This Charming Girl, follows in a similar vein of internalized pain and unarticulated sentiment of Camel(s) and other emotionally implosive films such as Hur Jin-ho's Christmas in August and Song Il-gon's Flower Island. Presenting the seemingly mundane everyday rituals of an attractive, introverted, and mildly eccentric postal worker named Jeong-hae (Kim Ji-su), a seeming loner with a curious penchant for setting alarm clocks at odd hours of the day, avoiding personal conversations in social settings, and bringing home stray cats, the film modulates between past and present in order to illustrate the interpenetration of memory and human behavior. What is revealed in Lee's narrative economy is an insightful portrait of broken souls who silently bear the internal scars of personal trauma, continuing to perform the hollow rituals of social conduct as a reluctant, but psychologically necessary step to reaching out - and moving ever closer - towards reconciliation, healing, and even intimacy. Beyond the film's quietly observed exposition on displaced emotion and unrequited longing, it is this visual restraint and inviolable human search for reconnection and trust that invariably set the film apart from the nihilism and abandon of recent transgressive cinema that similarly explore the idea of empty ritual and intimacy, rendering a delicate work of stark, emotional nakedness without the abstraction of overwhelming flesh.