It can be easy to feel safe in Canada. We can generally live our personal lives as we please, count on the support of others, and take solace in the fact that we live in a society that mostly strives for acceptance of that which is different.
Lee Young-nam (Bae Doona) doesn’t benefit from the same sense of freedom in A Girl at My Door. She is a new arrival to Yeosu, a South Korean backwater, having been recently ousted from the country’s urban capital of Seoul and her position there as police chief. Unfortunately, she also made the grave mistake of becoming painfully entangled with an ex-lover, which proved all too public for the city’s conservative social mindset.
Re-assigned to Yeousu, Young-nam is expected to maintain local law and order. By day, she does so with dispassion; by night, she loses herself in alcohol to dull the pain of her past. She keeps a low profile, tolerating the eccentricities and excesses of the locals. They have no understanding or sympathy for Young-nam’s plight.
What happened in Seoul is best left there, a colleague cautions her soon after arrival. Don’t do anything that you think will get you in trouble.
But trouble is at hand. It manifests in the uninvited form of Park Yong-ha (Song Sae-byeok), a local fixture known for his questionable business practices and habitual drunken escapades, and his 14-year-old adopted daughter, Sun Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), with whom he maintains a brutally antagonistic relationship.
Young-nam soon becomes party to the brutalities that Yong-ha inflicts on his daughter; ultimately, she finds herself thrust into the role of caregiver and provider for Do-hee. It is the power of this bond that gives this film much of its poignancy, as Young-nam struggles to seek redemption and solace in a society that is both incapable of understanding her plight and unwilling to explore it. This struggle underscores her powerfully unexpected connection with Do-hee and establishes groundwork for the film’s ultimately poignant climax and denouement.
A Girl at My Door is a moving film that will likely resonate with anyone who has struggled with isolation, and with loss. It is also a story of redemption. The piece deftly and courageously addresses the response from a closed and insular society to issues of bigotry, addiction, abuse, homosexuality, labour strife and gender fluidity.
Bae Doona turns in a thoughtful, affecting and poignant performance. She is, perhaps, most affecting in those moments where she is feeling fundamentally and bleakly out of place, juxtaposed against her clear need to seek redemption — delivered in the unlikely form of Do-hee — so that she can find closure and survive a social system that has clearly failed her.
The film offers a testament to the human spirit, and a celebration of its resiliency.