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August 2, 2005

This Charming Girl, 2004

charming.gifIn 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.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 02, 2005 | | Filed under 2005



Curious, once again. How or where did you happen to see this? And the Ki-Yong Park's film as well. Your wonderful analyses always leave me wanting to locate and watch these films as soon as possible. I guess what I''m trying to say is I'm quite jealous.


Posted by: Cubie King on Aug 03, 2005 2:48 AM | Permalink

This Charming Girl was released on DVD in Korea a little while ago and the Park films are also from there (although Motel Cactus is now out of print). I usually order through Yeon DVD or Yes Asia. You'll need a multiregion player, but it's well worth it. I bought my video converter from World Import so I can watch PAL tapes as well, but they do carry standalone multiregion DVD players that are plug-and-play out of the box.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 03, 2005 8:59 AM | Permalink


Thank you very much for the links.


Posted by: Cubie King on Aug 03, 2005 9:41 PM | Permalink

The "stray cats" reference is very clever ;)

What movie are you thinking of when you say about "the nihilism and abandon of recent transgressive cinema" ?

Posted by: Harry Tuttle on Aug 10, 2005 7:15 PM | Permalink

Hey Harry, that was more of a general comment on the prevailing course of a lot of contemporary "revenge films", particularly from Korea like Park Chan-wook and earlier Kim Ki-duk. It represents a kind of instinctual (and baser) view of human behavior in that when someone is grievously wronged, it almost becomes a justification to be equally brutal and inhuman. The film didn't go in that direction which would have been an easy way out. I like that.

Posted by: acquarello on Aug 10, 2005 8:44 PM | Permalink

Ok. That makes sense now. Actually that was my very reaction watching the film closing on itself: by then I fully empathized and approved her impulse (assuming the man was the one we saw in the flashback, or I didn't pay enough attention). I thought her revenge was justified and should proceed.
Although the alternative decision taken by the film has its own weakness. The exagerated use of close up and suspense to build up an obvious expectation then pulling out an anti-climactic surprise was intentionaly deceptive. Like if only the verge of breakdown could bring self redemption (which wasn't all that clear anyway).
The kitten scene(s) already said everything we wanted to know. And it was a much more symbolic and poetical way to express it.

A powerful film to watch above all. I'd recommend it over any other mainstream "masterpiece" anyway. ;)

Posted by: Harry Tuttle on Aug 11, 2005 10:57 PM | Permalink

thanks for an insightful read. have you seen the japan film MILK WOMAN, starring yuko tanaka? similar theme of life-long traumatic scar submerged in mechanical daily routine -- except the motions are life-affirming, if self-denying.

Posted by: ed on Jul 28, 2006 4:29 PM | Permalink

Interesting, no I haven't seen Milk Woman...I hadn't even heard of it until now. Whoo hoo...it looks as though the Japanese DVD has English subs! :)

Posted by: acquarello on Jul 28, 2006 7:19 PM | Permalink

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