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Samaritan Girl
cast: Han Yeo-reum, Kwak Ji-min, Eol Lee, Kwon Hyun-min, and Oh Young

director: Kim Ki-duk

115 minutes (18) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
SPOILER ALERT!
Via the Internet, two schoolgirls meet lonely men for sex, and the girls save all the money gained from this, intending to buy plane tickets for a trip to Europe. Yeo-jin (Kwak Ji-min), whose widower dad is a police detective, takes care of the 'business' arrangements and handles the cash, while Jae-yeong alias Vasumitra (Min Jeong-seo), does the rest, and confesses to her friend Yeo-jin that she likes entertaining the men, and enjoys chatting to them about life and work. Despite seeming hard-bitten, cynically suspicious, and resolutely hostile towards all the men who pay for Vasumitra's illicit services, Yeo-jin is quietly disturbed by her role in the sex game, despising herself, and best friend Jae-yeong's behaviour.

Then, during a police raid, Jae-yeong's desperate escape bid leaves her with a slowly fatal head injury. Yeo-jin begs Vasumitra's favourite client, a struggling musician (Oh Young), to visit her dying friend in hospital. Meanwhile, Yeo-jin's father (Eol Lee, who recently appeared in South Korea's modernised version of The Red Shoes, aka: Bunhongsin, 2005) has discovered his daughter's secret. The cop's violent encounter with one of the girls' customers solves nothing, of course, and so the final soul-destroying action of this misadventure begins...

First of all, although it features a couple of tastefully framed nude scenes, this is certainly not a 'sexploitation' movie. Do not mistake this foreign picture, from a controversial filmmaker, as just another example of exotic art house smut. All the sex happens off screen, and there's really nothing here except the plot device of 'teenage prostitution' that's the least bit salacious or mildly titillating.

As with the director's other works, The Isle and The Coast Guard, etc, Samaritan Girl (aka: Samaria) maintains a mesmerisingly stately pace and fields decidedly symbolic mise en scène, designed to elicit powerfully emotional reactions from discerning viewers. The rapidly crumbling relationship between wayward guilt-stricken Yeo-jin and her distantly caring but determinedly vengeful father is poignant and intensely sad, resulting from compellingly subtle and refreshingly subdued performances by the leads.

Tackling several deeply human themes of moral judgement, misguided hopes of salvation, and the basic necessity of forgiveness, Samaritan Girl bravely address issues of sinful folly and melancholic tragedy with an often-searing honesty, but without recourse to the kind of panicky near-hysteria usually associated with films that dramatise the darker side of teen sex.

The DVD offers anamorphic transfer and Dolby digital sound options (2.0 stereo, 5.1 surround, DTS) in Korean with English subtitles. Disc extras include: an intro by the director, interview with Kim Ki-duk, and some Tartan label trailers.
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