Monday 18 August 2008

Samaritan Girl (2004)

Jae-yeong and Yeo-jin are a couple of Korean schoolgirls who want to go to Europe, but they have a rather unique way of earning the money. Jae-young whores herself out and Yeo-jin acts as her pimp, organising the meetups and taking the money. While they're best friends, they're very different people. Jae-yeong enjoys what she does, she gets to know the men who pay her for sex and enjoys it all as much as they do. However Yeo-jin thinks that these clients are filthy men and really feels bad about being involved with them, even though she isn't the one sleeping with them.

While she doesn't really approve, she does understand why Jae-yeong is having sex with them. What she doesn't understand is why she would care about them. When she suggests going for a drink with one of them afterwards, she's horrified and berates her friend for even thinking about doing such a thing. Then Jae-yeong gets trapped inside a motel room when the cops raid it, and she jumps. She survives, though not for long but she was smiling when she jumped. Before she dies, she asks Yeo-jin to bring her one of her clients to see her.

She even dies with a smile on her face, a variance on that impish sort of smile that Audrey Tautou is so awesome at and Han Yeo-reum is good at it too. This was her debut on the big screen, her second being another Kim Ki-duk film, The Bow, which I saw last night. So Yeo-jin becomes even more confused than she was already and intrigued about who her friend was and what she did. So she takes on the same role in reverse, hunting down the same men to sleep with them and return their money. She's looking for understanding most of all, but maybe also to undo what has been done and to close the book on the affair, literally as the names and details of these men are in Jae-yeong's diary.

This isn't an easy part to play and it falls to Ji-min Kwak to do what she can with it. It's a big opportunity for her too, given that it was only her second film after Wishing Stairs, the third Whispering Corridors film, in which she was just another schoolgirl in the cast. There are so many things that could be driving her that it's hard to see which ones really are. She never finds the same smile that Jae-yeong found so naturally. What's more her dad, who is a cop, stumbles upon some of what's happening but doesn't understand and starts to react violently to those he sees as involved.

As always with Kim Ki-duk, I'm finding, there are a lot of questions here, that have to start with the obvious one: what's it all about? I think I understand the main track here, which is all about the transition to adulthood and I caught some dialogue with clever double meanings, but what was the dream sequence all about? Why didn't Yeo-jin's dad ever confront her about what he knew? Was there a subplot beginning about a serial killer of prostitutes that got written out? I was waiting for one character we meet early on to fit that role.

Maybe I'm just thinking too literally though. Kim Ki-duk's films are all about symbolism, so maybe I should be delving deeper into the religious parallels and what can be drawn from the title. While the film is Korean, the religious stories (and the title itself) all tie to Christianity. Is this about Yeo-jin finding a way to forgive Jae-yeong and the people she initially saw as filthy, after coming to an understanding of their respective motives? If so then it's also about her father finding a way to forgive both his daughter and those he saw as paedophiles, after also coming to an understanding of especially her motives. Still many questions though. Hopefully some college student will write a thesis on the symbolism of Kim Ki-duk and I'll see how close I get on each of his films...

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