Samaritan Girl (2004) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexual content, and nudity
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Kwak Ji-min, Seo Min-jeong, Lee Eol, Kwon Hyun-Min, Young Oh
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Screenplay: Kim Ki-duk
Review published February 9, 2005
Yeo-jin and Jae-young are young teenage girls and best friends, closer than most that call themselves that -- they are more like soul mates. They are normal girls in almost every way, save one. Jae-young is a prostitute, although she mainly does it for companionship and a spiritual need to bring happiness through sex, and Yeo-jin is the one who sets up the rendezvous, although she despises what's going on. Then when a police raid ends up in tragedy for Jae-young, Yeo-jin seeks to reverse the process which ended in her friend's demise, by going through the appointment book, giving the same men sex and paying them back the money they originally paid. However, there's a snag in the plans, as Jae-Young's police inspector father has found out his daughter might be a prostitute herself, and he's going to do whatever is necessary to put an end to her behavior, with the exception of shaming her with the knowledge of his awareness.
Acclaimed Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk filmed Samaritan Girl in between the two films that would bring him international acclaim, Spring Summer Fall Winter...and Spring and 3-Iron, although this is not really a lesser film in terms of provocative and fascinating subject matter. Although the story is a simple one, the themes run very deep, marrying the occupation of prostitution with religious healing, with sex as a means for bringing happiness to those who partake, as evidenced by the perpetual smile on the young girl's face for making her men feel joy, if only for a few minutes. Beneath this, it is also a tale of love between two girls, one that feels a higher calling and another that sees the euphemistic blessings as a sin, and also what took her love away. She seeks to reverse the pattern as a way of paying back and washing away the shamefulness of everything that has taken place. The final player in this three-part act is the father that can't come to terms with his virginal daughter's innocence given so freely away to men undeserving of such a thing. Although he doesn't understand Yeo-jin's motivations, he is also following in her footsteps, doing his own part to see that her deeds are atoned for, only his methods of operation include righteous retribution.
Samaritan Girl isn't an easy film to understand fully, although I suppose one could watch it as a straight narrative, but that's probably only seeing half of the full story. Motifs abound, especially of stones and of concrete, and how these can bring life and death in varying ways -- a burial marker, a murder weapon, a way to ward off the unwanted, something hard to fall on, a way to get stuck, a way to free oneself, and a way to come into womanhood. At the same time that one may not come away understanding the symbolic significance of things in the film, so too is Samaritan Girl not an easy film to like outright. It deals with subject matter we don't like to see or know exists in this world, and the way events play out, we grow increasingly sure that there can be no road back to happiness once the domino effect of these disturbing events chain react.
Samaritan Girl is a film that some will not quite feel the impact of until after seeing it, as the images and events of the film settles uneasily in one's mind in a way that can only be resolved through contemplation and understanding. In the end, it's about guilt, shame, and forgiveness. Shame for a girl, shame for a family, and as a growing epidemic, a shame for a country. Ultimately, it puts a face on the smiling young girls as sympathetic, putting the blame for this problem on the men that seek to use them, because they do not see how adversely the prostitution effects the lives of these children and their friends and families while in he confines of a hotel room for a few minutes. As Kim may have intentionally set forth in his morality tale, if the men who willingly pay for child prostitutes can see the full picture, as Samaritan Girl painstakingly portrays in its own metaphoric fashion, perhaps the tide can finally be turned on a problem that is currently running rampant in his native country of Korea, and indeed, throughout Asia and the world.
©2005 Vince Leo