Review: Kim Ki-duk’s Samaritan Girl (2004)

samaritan girl
*Spoiler Alert*
Yeo-jin (Kwak Ji-min) and Jae-yeong (Han Yeo-reum) are two South Korean teenage girls. Best friends forever. They’re trying to save up money for a trip to Europe. To raise enough money Jae-yeong is prostituting herself, while Yeo-jin acts are her “pimp”. Things start to get out of hand when the police raids the motel where Jae-yeong is entertaining one of her clients. To escape the police she decides to jump out of a window, against her better judgment and Yeo-jin begging her not to do it. As Jae-yeong lays dying on the hospital bed her last wish is to see one of her clients. 

Yeo-jin, who would do anything for her, decides to accommodate her wish; even if it means loosing her virginity to a man she finds filthy and disgusting in order to convince him to go the hospital. When they arrive at the hospital it’s too late. Jae-yeong is dead. Yeo-jin decides to honor her memory in her own way, by sleeping with all of Jae-yeong’s clients and returning their money to them. However when her father (Lee Eol), a policeman, discovers what she’s up to, he is devastated and takes revenge on the men who took his daughter’s innocence.

Following up his masterpiece, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, only one year later South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk releases Samaritan Girl (original title: Samaria) a seemingly completely different film. In the same year he will also come out with 3-Iron, another spectacular film from my favorite South Korean filmmaker and one of the best contemporary filmmakers in general. Samaritan Girl is an emotionally though film to deal with. By the end of it I always find myself tearing up. It’s just so good it leaves me speechless. Kim Ki-duk’s films tend to have that effect on me.

For the entire runtime, the film had my full and undivided attention. Some scenes literally took my breath away. It’s that intense. As always there isn’t much dialogue, but the actor’s incredible acting skills and their complete understanding of the role really don’t render it an indispensable element of the film. This time around I was particularly impressed by Lee Eol, as Yeong-ki, the protagonist’s (Yeo-jin) father. He has to bottle up all of his feelings and only gets to release them in rare outbursts of violence. His ability to convey emotion while trying to hide his emotions as much as possible is truly a rare gift.

Of course the two gorgeous actresses are equally awesome and talented. I’ve already praised Han Yeo-reum‘s acting in The Bow, but here’s she’s even younger, which makes it all the more impressive and damn, is that smile impossible to resist. Kwak Ji-min the leading lady of this story, does a fantastic job as well. To give you an idea of how good she is, I noticed that she even emulates her “father’s” mannerisms. Usually, familial relations in film rest on physical resemblance and often times directors forget that mannerisms (little gestures, the way a character speaks, the way they move) is largely determined and “learned” from their social environment (family, friends etc.).

While the acting is spectacular, a film can never rest entirely on its actor’s shoulders: The script is where the movie is made, that’s where it all starts (usually). Samaritan Girl happens to have an amazing script. While it feels like the film shifts focus, protagonists and even tone, by the end you don’t even remember where it started. The way Kim radically and unexpectedly “changes” story, is not handled perfectly. It feels too drastic. That would be my only complaint about the film. Everything else is handled perfectly. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

What I love about a film like Samaritan Girl is that it manages to be sweet and romantic while dealing with some pretty heavy subject matter. Teen prostitution is nothing to be taken lightly, the film doesn’t judge its characters, but it also shows how actions have consequences, sometimes deadly ones. I’m not sure I completely understand the religious symbolism in this film, so I won’t try to get into that, but it does add an extra layer to the story and makes it even more intriguing. This also adds to the film’s “re-watchability”.

Another thing I appreciate is Kim’s sense of humor. Even in dark scenes there’s something funny. He has this unique ability to see something funny in everything, just like Han Yeo-reum’s character in the film. One last thing I’ll mention is Park Ji-woong‘s beautiful score, which really carries the film when it needs to and remains quiet and restrained when it doesn’t need to be present. Music and sound are a fundamental ingredient in any film and the way Kim employs traditional film scoring is always remarkable and memorable. I had only seen the film one time before and I still remembered some of the tracks.

Overall a heartbreaking, but bewildering film. If you love Kim’s work, enjoy South Korean cinema or just want to see a powerful movie you can’t go wrong with Samaritan Girl. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. I know I always say this, but it’s true: You really have to see it to believe it!

Rating on Second Viewing: 9 out of 10

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4 comments

      • The Thorn

        I plan on doing a Kim Ki-duk series at one point, like I did with Breillat. I’ve been picking them all up, and there’s one or two I haven’t seen before – so it should be fun. 🙂

      • davideperretta

        Awesome!! Can’t wait! He’s definitely one of my favorite filmmakers and his films are so complex they really invite discussions. I always look forward to hear other people’s take and interpretations of them.

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