Samaria (Samaritan Girl) (Ki-duk Kim, 2004)
Ki-duk Kim makes very beautiful movies that, in the main, I have never found myself able to connect with; I can appreciate films like Seom or Nabbeun Namja, but while watching them I could never find an in to emotionally bond with any of the characters. Samaria is the first Ki-duk Kim movie I’ve seen where I found that—though I never did get over my amusement that much of the connection I ended up feeling to our two main characters is lifted from what I am choosing to think of as Kim’s extended homage to Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, released a decade before—and as such, I simply liked it better than any of the Kim flicks I’ve had a chance to take in to date.
Netflix’s plot synopsis makes it seem like the first half-hour of the movie is actually all the important bits, so let me set the record a little straighter—yes, the first bit of the movie focuses on amateur prostitute Jae-young (Yeo-reum Han in her first screen appearance—she would work with Kim again the next year in The Bow) and her friend/manager Yeo-jin (Wishing Stairs‘ Ji-min Kwak), who wrestles with the ethics of the thing even while planning to reap the benefits (Jae-young got into the game in order to be able to afford for both of them to be able to take a trip to Europe the next summer). Tragedy strikes when Yeo-jin is momentarily distracted, and Yeo-jin is left trying to understand Jae-young’s assertions that she liked, and felt close to, the men who paid her. Yeo-jin feels compelled to travel the same path in order to come to some sort of understanding—but when her father, Yeong-ki (H‘s Eol Lee), finds out, bad things start happening as Yeong-ki, in turn, takes the first steps to understanding where his daughter is coming from. At the risk of a minor spoiler: approximately the final third of the film takes place on what ends up being a bungled trip to visit Yeong-ki’s wife’s grave that strands the two of them in the (very beautiful) middle of nowhere; this is the portion that I referred to above as an extended homage to Sonatine (but without the Yakuza angle).
As should be—hopefully–obvious from the description above, Samaritan Girl is ultimately a movie about people who are so broken they no longer have any way of communicating with those around them. (Figurative representations of Hee-jin’s literal muteness in Seom; lack of communication is a frequent theme of Kim’s.) However, they don’t realize they’re broken until something horrible befalls them (or, in the case of Yeong-ki’s relationship with his wife specifically, a good amount of time after something horrible befalls them, like her death). The main thrust of the movie—its main point of conflict, if you will—is Yeo-jin and Yeong-ki trying to even define what’s wrong with their relationship, but without realizing anything is Yeo-jin is far too distracted by her quest to give any thought to her relationship with her father at all; Yeong-ki thinks, at least until he finds out what’s going on, that he and his daughter have a normal relationship. (And here, of course, is the crux of the matter: we have to ask ourselves, given the limited information given to us, whether he does, and if so, whether Kim is casting aspersions on the current “normal” human mode of relationships; this is certainly not out of the question.) I’m not sure what the difference is between this and the other Kim movies I’ve seen, but here we had characters who were relatable, even in the odd situations into which Kim flung them on a regular basis, and more to the point, likable despite/within their flaws. And, it should go without saying, this too is a very pretty film, like everything Kim does. But there is more substance here, at least it seemed so to me. *** ½
Trailer. NO SUB FOR YOU.