SAMARITAN GIRL (aka. Samaria) is a film by controversial Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. Needless to say, I enjoy watching his work, I have seen all of Kim's films; his films are unique, powerful, uninhibited, surprising pieces of film-making. Kim's films defies the usual trappings of storytelling with a rare visual and visceral punch that gave him an outcast reputation in his native land. His work is semi-abstract and tries to represent thoughts and feelings by pure expression of emotion, not by words, but actions and reactions. Most of his films have limited dialogue such as "The Isle", "Bad Guy" and "3-Iron".
A couple of teenage girls have a dream of traveling abroad. They are best friends and in order for them to attain their goal, one becomes a prostitute while the other becomes a negotiator for the deal and serves as a lookout for authorities. The two girls seem to be doing well on their enterprise until one day, a tragic series of events sets off a situation that goes darker and darker by the moment. Will either of them find the light they're looking for?
At first impression, "Samaritan Girl" feels like a slice of human/life drama and/or teenage prostitution. This would be the wrong way to approach this film, as this would lead you to conclusions that would prove puzzling and leave you perplexed. This film is a film by Kim Ki-Duk, this director is famous for subtle messages with cryptic symbols, topics that are human with deep insights and understanding. Samaritan Girl is not really about teen prostitution, it is quite peculiar even for Kim, that its premise is more about human issues such as sin, guilt, shame, dishonor, vengeance, punishment and atonement, and eventual redemption. Most often, Kim explores the issue with the problem of communication or lack thereof. Kim's films revolve around moody, silent characters that express themselves through action and reaction; never by words. This visual style has given Kim international acclaim; his images would show the audience more depth than simple dialogue ever could. On that note, the sex, nudity and violence in his films may be visceral but it is NEVER exploitive. Kim reveals his characters through those scenes with such visual flare that we get to realize who or what they truly are. But enough about Kim, time to move on...
Jae-Yeong is the prostitute, Yeo-jin is the lookout. Jae-Yeong expresses herself through sex and enjoys what she does. Yeo-jin is puzzled as to why Jae-yeong feels that she isn't dirty and that she connects with her "johns" even for a brief time. However, Yeo-jin still performs ritualized attempts on Jae-Yeong to wash away her sins by bathing her. Catholic undertones, anyone? In the second half of the film, Yeo-jin tries to understand her friend by "becoming" her, she tries to experience what Jae-Yeong has. To redeem her sense of guilt, Yeo-jin has sex with Jae-yeong's customers. Yeo-jin's father is a cop who chances on seeing his daughter attending to a man. Shocked and dismayed, his reaction is violence which leads to bloody murder. Then as an exploration of his own guilt and bewilderment, he takes his daughter to visit her mother's grave. On these scenes, the last remnants in attempts of communication and redemption are to be made.
Kim's films are often poetic, intriguing and painfully beautiful. This director is at his best in making sentiments of thought-provoking themes through lyrical and poetic sequences, but never for a moment does his films lose their deep insight on the human condition. "Samaritan Girl" may alienate those expecting a film with a linear style with spoon-fed conclusions but will definitely attract those who are interested in experiencing a unique piece of cinema without the guidance of a finger to draw their conclusions. Then again, I have seen most of his films, and sometimes, even I'm not certain on their conclusions.
That is the magic of Kim's films. The director knows how to immerse his audience into a world that will sometimes bewilder and astonish, explore and understand the rules of a marginalized world or a way of life. You feel Kim's hand throughout his film's proceedings, it is similar to a walk on the beach, following the unpredictable footprints on the white sand, with an uncertain sense as to where he is trying to take you. He is a master of methodical cinema.
Like him or not, Kim Ki-Duk will envelope you and force you to experience the pain of the lack of communication that will haunt you even after the end credits. Give Kim a chance, and I bet you will feel your eyes open and maybe feel a bit "purified" from all the usual fare from Hollywood.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ - Stars]
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