More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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Introductory - other important Doona Bae roles :
With Air Doll (2009), Cloud Atlas (2012), A Girl at my Door (2014), a pattern ? : sex-toy / fabricant / girl becoming woman, @Doonabaefanz ?
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) February 6, 2015
As the Tweet (inevitably pithily) tries to say, there are some significant roles for Doona Bae (or, at any rate, those whose existence is easily known in the West) that appear to be linked (whether that reflects the nature of roles offered to, as well as accepted by, Doona Bae).
When Nozomi, the doll that Hideo (Itsuji Atao) buys in Air Doll (2009), comes to life (as played by Doona Bae), the doll itself / herself is a substitute for a failed affair, and Nozomi is rarely quite one with the world into which she emerges (and from which she ultimately departs) except to the extent that she makes a life for herself and finds others who understand her and her experience.
The idea of a doll come to life is, at heart, just as much a metaphor* – it is up to the viewer with what the metaphorical connection itself is being made – as it is in the case of the so-called fabricants in Cloud Atlas (2012), with Sonmi-451** proving the tenets of AI, in that these created life-forms do become wholly sentient, although only intended to be unemotional, robotic drones.
That said, setting apart The Animatrix (2003) (and its engaging depiction of The Rise of The Machines, desiring equality with mankind – as foreshadowed by Samuel Butler in Erewhon), it is one that the Wachowskis, elsewhere, largely wish to resist in the Matrix world (starting with The Matrix (1999)). For Neo appears to assert a primacy of humanness / humanity – although, in the eyes of The Architect (and on some other scale), Neo may just as much be [reducible to] a piece of code as, in Jupiter Ascending (2015), Jupiter Jones is considered to be genetically identical to the mother of Lord Titus.
However, in this film, Doona Bae (Inspector Young-Nam Lee) is not playing a doll who lived, or a replicant who discovered feelings (including sexual arousal), and became a rallying cry for generations to come, but is a woman, taking care of the girl of the title(not least in the original title, where she is named). Albeit at Lee’s door is not where we first see her, for she is being bullied, and there are some tensions built into that premise…***
In any case, the girl (Dohee) is a mirror to Lee, and she is played with such great plasticity by Kim Sae Ron that one could not believe that one or two other girls had not been sharing the part – an effect not accounted for just by make-up and hair. Lee’s identification with Dohee, and her concomitant compassion and malleability / indulgence, is obvious from the start, though not the depths of – or the reasons for – it.
Whereon hangs the film, were it not that :
* Whether or not one’s constraints are budgetary ones (according to Wikipedia®, the film’s budget was just US $300,000), what the film presents as a small coastal settlement is even more obviously unpopulated than it would be compared, say, to shooting in Seoul – at least, what we see must be a small quarter of Yeosu (which research suggests is actually a city, not a town)
* Even if the script wants to explain that situation away, by saying that Koreans no longer want to live / work there, and that only the person keeping the workers there are in hand is local : in that case, what need a police station, with not a few officers, at which Lee is the ‘station chief’, if the only significant activity is aquatic in nature ?****
* In fact, the cast is so thin on the ground that, apart from the denizens of a hair salon cum village hub, and the group of people who are momentarily present when Lee moves into supposedly temporary accommodation, we have already met everyone else. (Although Lee apologizes to her landlady for the inconvenience of her unexpected arrival, conveniently there is no sign that she is ever going to be housed anywhere else.)
* The world of this film, then, revolves unconvincingly around only the workers, Dohee’s father (who is in charge of the workers, and is the somewhat erratically written and drawn father of Dohee*****), Lee’s fellow officers, and a cashier of a supermarket in an unspecified location (but, in the locality, a police officer does not even recognize Lee whilst she is busy with her bottles of water).
Thank you, @CamPicturehouse and @jackabuss for having @THEAGENTAPSLEY : Doona Bae did well with a difficult role, as did young Kim Sae Ron.
— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) February 6, 2015
Doona Bae and Kim Sae Ron are both excellent in their roles. Sadly, theirs are the only ones with any substance, for not only is Dohee’s father a cipher (of parental drunkenness), but so is her grandmother – who seems strangely reminiscent of [a more aggressive version of] the one who is initially unsympathetic in Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket(2013) (which is set in Laos)…
NB Possible spoilers in this paragraph
As to Doona Bae’s character, it depends intimately, and even intensely, on that played by Kim Sae Ron, to the extent that it is questionable whether they are, apart from on the level of the attribution of dialogue, actually separable. That notion, if one were seriously encouraged to entertain it from the start to finish in the film, could have been its saving from its immersion in banality, as well as the need to believe that, although Lee is a police inspector, she is not only very naive in her personal dealings, but also lacking in being even plausibly streetwise.
By choice of film to appear in, Doona Bae seems in danger of not usefully claiming for herself the territory of the saintly fool, too good for this world, but forced to be in and of it [as in The Idiot (Idioot) (2011)] : it may suit her aesthetic to take such roles, but they do not ultimately flatter or, more importantly, use her talents. Yes, of course it is a delight to see her infectious smile break through, after sombre scenes where she is forced to be the celebrated guest at some grim event for her induction, but showing wearing ‘a mask’ can only be done so many times (even to the extent that spring water is turned into some sort of saké – or vice versa), however well Doona Bae carries it off, before it become stale.
This film, almost inevitably, reminded of Humbert Humbert (James mason) in Lolita (1962) and of the eye of the beholder, but also of many another scenario where one properly suspects that manipulation (masked by apparent innocence) is at work. For, no doubt for reasons relating to her own past, Lee trusts Dohee (for example, there is an un-ironic scene with tears, harp in the score, and Lee’s tender reaction), rather as Sean Connery does Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964). However, viewers of, say, Catalan cinema may be reminded more by Dohee of Nico (David Solans) in Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), and doubt the wisdom of Lee’s faith (however much, as heavily implied, Dohee may be the imprint of a young Lee).
The reason being that this is one of those films that opens with a car, clearly being driven a distance, with what we know – from looking towards the front of the car and through the windscreen – is literal baggage in the back. And that, perhaps, is the downfall of any sense of (surprise at) the unfolding of the story, on which it seems to have depended, whereas it all seems – without suggesting dramatic irony – so patent, right from seeing the arrival in a place with a small-town mentality. In Peter Gabriel’s words (from ‘Big Time’, on his album So) :
The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
* This has been a topos since, at least, Adam was fashioned from clay (Genesis 2:7), proceeding through the Greek mythology of Talos and of Hesiod’s Pandora, the Metamorphoses of Ovid, and Pygmalion’s statue there, Paulina’s in The Winter’s Tale, Bernard Shaw’s reimagining of Ovid in Pygmalion (and its own reimagining in My Fair Lady (1964)), etc., etc.
** Doona Bae is also credited, by IMDb (@IMDb), as playing Sonmi-351 :
DOO- means STAR...NA- means BEAUTIFUL...So... 'DOONA' means 'BEAUTIFUL STAR' <3 It's perfect name for her <3 <3 <3 pic.twitter.com/19ITip5om0
— I Love DOONA BAE (@beautifulstar_B) May 18, 2014
*** The (apparent) failure to envisage any consequences of the isolated example of intimidation by peers is one that the plot seeks to gloss over by, much later, having Lee stated to be such a feared force (this fear seems little evident at the), and by locating the main time-period of the film outside term, so that nothing comes of it.
Maybe, but it did seem, at one point, as though the serious incident that we witness, where Lee’s mere show of authority is not taken seriously until it becomes referable to their middle school (and whether she follows it up seems doubtful – the plot just seems to have her forget about the issue) : Lee does not, at any rate (which seems to indicate a late shoe-in) raise the question with Dohee until it is unconscionably late, if something had been continuing…
**** It is hardly to be referred to on account of being a better film, but My Sweet Pepper Land (2013) at least avoids one feeling that Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), its police officer, is on anything other than a perilous, corrupt frontier (happily joined there by Govend (Golshifteh Farahani)). The world of A Girl is actually such a world, but with an implausible veneer of law enforcement, and of seeming to be a home to generally law-abiding folk…
***** Regrettably, both note-taking and IMDb let one down on crediting the actor and his role ! However, we are saved NB Link is to a summary of the plot by Wikipedia®, which tells us that he is Park Yong-ha (played by Song Sae-byeok).
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)