“A Girl at My Door” is an uncomfortable look at homophobia in South Korea

Some dramas are bound to make you feel uncomfortable simply because they straddle a thin line between trying to be “real” and really going for shock value. The South Korean film A Girl at My Door is this kind of movie and s a queer woman watching the film, having your gender and sexual orientation shown as vulnerabilities is all the more perturbing. But feelings of discomfort do not a bad movie make, and A Girl at My Door is actually quite intriguing.

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The film follows Lee Young-nam (Doona Bae of Cloud Atlas, Sense8) after her transfer from a big city job in Seoul to a small seaside town for unknown reasons. She’s now the new chief of the town’s police station, and it’s obvious from the get-go she’s going to shake things up.

Early in the movie Young-nam meets Sun Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron), a young girl who habitually suffers beatings by her classmates, stepfather, and step-grandmother. Her mom is out of the picture, having left the family. The locals, including the police, have looked the other way because Do-hee’s stepfather Park Yong-ha is the town’s main employer.

It doesn’t take long before Young-nam assumes herself as Do-hee’s protector. The girl quickly becomes attached. Too attached. For her part, Young-nam proves to not be particularly skilled at drawing boundaries.

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Take the mysterious death of Do-hee’s step-grandmother, whose body was found floating at sea. A known drinker, the police ruled the death the result of a drunk driving accident. But Young-nam suspects Do-hee had something to do with it, yet she does nothing about it. Instead, following Yong-ha’s continued aggressions, she has Do-hee move in with her for the summer.

Indeed Young-nam is not without her flaws. She’s a functioning alcoholic and, as we find out, a bit of a coward.

The halfway point of the film marks the appearance of a beautiful stranger. More than just a pretty face, she’s the reason behind Young-nam’s transfer. She’s Young-nam’s ex-girlfriend, and by showing up at the police station she’s set tongues a wagging. After they make the smart decision to move the conversation elsewhere, Young-nam’s ex lays it out for her—she’d like to either move into town with her, or have Young-nam move to Australia with her.

Considering the police force uprooted her life when they found out about the relationship, Young-nam is not willing to take such risks again. So they argue, and then they kiss. It’s brief, but I commend the inclusion of the kiss, considering such scenes are still not the norm in South Korean cinema.

Unsurprisingly, the very last person Young-nam would wish to have witness the scene does—Yong-ha. He threatens to spill the beans if she pursues the illegal worker charges against him. She’s stuck.

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And things just continue to get worse with Do-hee. She’s taken to wearing Young-nam’s uniform and even got the same haircut as her. More alarmingly, while Young-nam was out with her ex, Do-hee was at her house freaking out and banging her head against the wall.

Eventually (though not soon enough), Young-nam tries to put an end to this unhealthy relationship. But her timing couldn’t be worse. When police arrest Yong-ha for beating up one of his workers, he reports Young-nam for sexual molestation of a minor. Out of revenge, Do-hee confirms his claims.

Young-nam is adamant that it’s a set up, but the detective on the case makes it clear: “It becomes a problem when a homosexual does it.” There it is.

The concept of equating homosexuality with pedophilia is nothing new, but it stings all the same. What we see less of, however, is that same comparison when women are involved. That’s not to say this doesn’t occur, just that lesbianism itself has historically been undermined and women as a whole seen as too maternal for such crimes. But homophobia is quick to rear its ugly head when the opportunity presents itself, and A Girl at My Door provided the perfect scenario for this.

This film wants to make you feel uncomfortable, and it succeeds. Whether it’s the merciless beatings Do-hee receives, the odd moment in the tub between her and Young-nam, or when Do-hee tries to set up her stepfather in a very detailed scene, this movie will get a reaction out of you.

At two hours in length, A Girl at My Door is longer than need be for the story it ultimately told. And despite its subject matter, it wasn’t always an engaging watch. Nonetheless, the movie featured great performances from Bae and Kim and shed light on several issues usually left untouched, but that need to come to the surface.

A Girl at My Door is available for purchase through the movie’s website, and will be screening at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 19 and 22.