This Charming Girl Review
Director, Lee Yoon-ki has been doing the festival rounds for the past year with This Charming Girl; picking up several awards along the way and hopefully launching Kim Ji-soo to stardom.
A film debut for its director and star, This Charming Girl centres on a young woman (Kim Ji-soo) with a scarred past that stems way back to childhood. Day by day she tries to repress her memories as her life predictably rolls on. Her friends at work acknowledge her as being a little peculiar, but always “charming”. Lee Yoon-ki captures life as it is, and for this single girl she may share a life like many other people. It’s not just her, it’s you or me; a tale that echoes a thousand sentiments and captivates the human heart
It’s always nice when a film can live up to its title alone. Lee Yoon-ki’s film is an often sweet tale that although focuses on several of its central character's troubles it brings us as much poignancy and relevance for a film showing a typical day in the life of an average worker. The director places emphasis on surroundings; drawn out shots in the post office or eating alone at home bring out every likeable quality in Kim Ji-soo’s character, and that is all we need. There’s no huge amounts of exposition through lengthy conversation; just simple situations that we, the viewer understand and appreciate. This girl is tardy, she’s obsessed with time, and she enjoys eating, but she’s also alone and tries to fill her void with certain activities, of which nothing seems to mean much. Finding a kitten she seeks a kind of solace as its new mother, whilst never having given birth to a child - presumably going way back to a traumatic experience that left her all to cautious in life. Of course I‘m speculating in certain areas that are far more symbolic and metaphorical; nothing is so forcefully spelt out for the observer and that is what may prove the film to be a burdening experience to some. But This Charming Girl is more than a character study however - it’s a study of life
Structurally the film is interesting; it‘s a slow burner if ever there was one, requiring patience if the viewer is to be rewarded. Only by flashing backward in time at certain intervals does the film give our lead character a deeper history. We’re teased for just seconds until the next scene plays out two or three times longer than it usually would in any conventional set up. But that’s what This Charming Girl relies on; its attention to detail. It’s amazing and a testament to the director’s skill that he can grab our attention and hold it for overlong amounts of time. Several scenes only achieve greater impact through these decisions, for example: When the young woman’s friend fails to show up for dinner she just starts by herself and we watch her, with the camera lingering. Likewise her working life; something that needn’t be so interesting in a movie, yet it resonates because it has a purpose, it’s the things we take for granted that we do each and every day. Shopping - a laborious task that can often be too tiring is turned into a fascinating look at how this woman lives. When Lee Yoon-ki isn’t paying attention to the environment he’s making his people realistic, and by emphasising realism he directs most of the film hand held or with a body crane. It’s filmic, without ever feeling too much like a documentary or case file; it’s voyeuristic without being offensive, and it’s the overall natural progression of this method that leaves the film a very memorable one.
Its characters are naturally important, with many of them proving to be keys in understanding Ji-soo’s character. You’ll have noticed by now that I haven’t mentioned the woman’s name, this is to avoid ruining too much of what I consider to be a spoiler and what is a serious decision on the director‘s part. We don’t know anybody by name, and we only get to hear the central character’s name at the very end of the film, suggesting that it is now important for her to be given a proper identity as she continues to move on in life. Her friends are naturally close and they worry about her from time to time, the male figures in her life range from deplorable to likeable. In fact it is for a very good reason that men are shown in the way that they are, and how they play on the mind of fragile woman who may have faced similar hardships in life. Her past resurfaces, while in the present she still finds that little has changed as she crosses paths with a few different men; some controlling or offensive without ever being aware of their actions, and others who have troubled lives themselves and only through her can they face up to what life offers. There’s even a love interest (Hwang Jeong-min) that is played as far from cliché as you can get. He’s a real average guy who doesn’t go out of his way to impress. His honest qualities in the end make him a refreshing character without ever having to be a fully developed one. Her mother plays an important role as does the aforementioned kitten. While it might not initially look it This Charming Girl has a lot more to it under the surface and this isn’t the place for me to discuss it, due to what would lead to heavy spoiler material, which I’m trying all too hard to avoid. In the end it is up to her to open up and face her fears; get her troubles out of her system and look beyond the darkest recesses of her psyche. Only by doing this can she continue to live a normal life in a world that she’s shunned for so very long. All I can say is that Lee Yoon-ki has achieved what he’s set out do, his awards are justified - This Charming Girl deserves to be South Korea’s shining example from 2004, proving that when tackled properly they can make some of the best drama features in the world.
Spectrum, in association with Bear Entertainment brings us This Charming Girl on a single disc. The amaray case comes housed in a card slip cover; pretty standard but nice all the same.
The film is presented in a correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. There’s noticeable specks and dust from time to time but the image is generally clear and detailed. Colours are warm and natural and contrast levels are decent, though a tad high. The most distracting thing here is heavy Edge Enhancement. This looks generally quite nasty throughout; all too noticeable on 28 inch, no doubt hideous on anything much bigger.
For sound we have a single option of Korean 5.1. It really doesn’t seem like the kind of film that needs anything as heavy but it’s actually a well done track. It’s more about listening for details in the background. Daily life is captured in many different ways and a fair amount of bustling activity manages to make its way to the rears. Music plays an important but understated role. It never goes for that melodramatic punch, but even while it stays a simple affair it is carried well. Dialogue is clear, with no drop outs or hiss etc, making this a rewarding listen.
The optional English subtitles are very good and I can’t say I noticed anything problematic in terms of grammar. These are of a good size, in a white font that’s well timed and easy to read.
As can be expected there are no subtitles for any of these features. Also while the main menu is in English the rest are all in Korean.
First up is an audio commentary with director and star and then we have a 41-minute making of feature, which can be viewed in several chapters or as a whole. This reveals a lot of behind the scenes material and unless you can understand Korean there may be little to gain. However I found myself sitting through it all quite easily, as a lot of the footage features Kim Ji-soo being her compelling self. There’s a lot of laughter here and you’ll find yourself smiling along even if you have no idea what the joke is. You’ll also find several short interviews throughout, with the director or cast members. Next on the menu is a 10-minute interview featuring the director and cast members; with a lot of accompanying hissing. Next is a continuity piece that runs for just over 14-minutes. This takes us through several scenes in split screen; storyboard on left, footage on right. This is also very poorly compressed. Following that is approximately 13-minutes of audition footage from a few of the supporting actors. That leaves us with promotional material, consisting of the film trailer, a music video, preview screening footage and behind the scenes photography for the promo campaign.
While I can’t recommend This Charming Girl to everyone due to its pacing, which may put off some viewers, I can say that it’s a lovely little film that is restrained enough to avoid getting overly dramatic; using to its advantage a subtler approach. Kim Ji-soo is compelling on screen; her facial expressions say more than words, and if fortune smiles upon her then we could be witnessing a star in the making.