“Samaritan Girl” – A.J. Hakari

Revenge. A lot of movies these days tend to be in favor of it, or they at least stylize it to the point that it looks really cool. Sure, the likes of Death Sentence and The Brave One show the dark side of taking matters into your own hands. But at the end of the day, the bad guys have gotten their just desserts, and the good guys have been vindicated for taking out society’s trash. Samaritan Girl, a film by South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk, spins quite a different tale. The idea of taking an eye for an eye comes with nasty consequences in here, a tough but intriguingly-told story of how sacrificing one’s own self can help heal wounds more effectively than sacrificing others.

High school students Jae-young (Min-jeong Seo) and Yeo-jin (Ji-min Kwak) are the best of friends, not to mention partners in a rather sordid business. In order to raise some money for a couple plane tickets to Europe, Jae-young has been selling her body to men, while Yeo-jin manages her affairs from the sidelines. It’s an arrangement that’s worked out so far, until Yeo-jin grows concerned (and perhaps a little jealous) with how her friend’s customers are starting to treat her. But their partnership comes to a tragic end when Jae-young dies after the police burst in while she’s “working.” As a means of making reparations for what she made her friend go through, Yeo-jin sets about sleeping with Jae-young’s clients and giving back their money, an approach that actually inspires the men to clean up their acts and lead better lives. But after Yeo-jin’s policeman father (Eol Lee) finds out what she’s been doing, he sets off on a path wrought with wanton violence, his quest for vengeance being put at odds with his daughter’s search for redemption.

With Samaritan Girl, Kim Ki-duk continues his tradition of emphasizing what’s not said over what is said. The film actually contains quite a bit of dialogue, especially when compared to Kim’s other films (especially 3-Iron), but the crux of the story hinges on a lack of communication. When Yeo-jin’s father sees her in bed with another man and begins to stalk other clients on their way to meet her, he assumes the worst right off the bat and trudges further down a violent road without ever talking to her about it. I guess you could see this as being a little stubborn on Kim’s part, sort of a cheap way of prolonging the story instead of having the characters just talk things out. But the way Kim conveys this decision is perfectly logical and leads to the most suspenseful sequences of the film, the highlight of which is when Yeo-jin’s father confronts one of the clients in his own home.

In turn, one might think Yeo-jin’s decision to sell herself is a pretty drastic way of making it up to her deceased friend. But such an act fits right along with Samaritan Girl’s subtle commentary on faith and religion. On the one hand, you have the father, who supplies his child with religious facts on a daily basis and yet turns to violence to right what he believes has been wronged against his daughter. On the other side, there’s Yeo-jin, who yawns her way through her dad’s lectures, only to realize soon after Jae-young’s death that she can’t escape her sins, that something big must be done in order to repent. The paths of both characters are delicately interwoven with one another, each one compelling to watch unfold. Part of this is due to Kim’s delicate storytelling, but credit also goes to the powerful but low-key performances given by both Ji-min Kwak and Eol Lee, each a lost soul in their own unique ways.

Although there are a few moments throughout the film, mostly during the last third, that seem to drag with a lack of purpose or symbolism, Kim is right on target here as he slips in under the radar with an odd but unassuming story. In short, Samaritan Girl hits as close to the heart as a film can.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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