[K-FILM REVIEWS] 여자, 정혜 (This Charming Girl)

[K-FILM REVIEWS] 여자, 정혜 (This Charming Girl)

여자, 정혜
(This Charming Girl, KOREA 2005)
Yeoja, Jung-Hye (lit. Woman, Jung-Hye)

99 Minutes - 35mm 1.85:1 - Colour
Rating: 15 and over
Released in Korea on 3/10/2005
Total National Admissions (Approx.): 33,645
Produced by: LJ 필름 (LJ Film)
Distributed by: 쇼박스 (Showbox)

Theatrical Trailer Stream WMV 300k Stream WMV 700k D/L WMV D/L RAM
Music Video Stream WMV 300k Stream WMV 700k D/L WMV D/L RAM

Official Website

Note: The review contains spoilers

Director 이윤기 (Lee Yoon-Gi)
[우리시대의 사랑 (Our Generation's Love, 1994), 러브토크 (Love Talk, 2005)]
Writer 이윤기 (Lee Yoon-Gi))
Adapted from 우애령 (Woo Ae-Ryung)'s novel 정혜 (Jung-Hye)
Director of Photography 최진웅 (Choi Jin-Woong)
Music 이영호 (Lee Young-Ho), 이소윤 (Lee So-Yoon)

Editor 함성원 (Ham Sung-Won), 김형주 (Kim Hyung-Joo)

김지수 (Kim Ji-Soo), 황정민 (Hwang Jung-Min), 김혜옥 (Kim Hye-Ok), 이대연 (Lee Dae-Yeon), 김미성 (Kim Mi-Sung), 서동원 (Seo Dong-Won), 김중기 (Kim Joong-Gi), 김미미 (Kim Mi-Mi)


A Summer afternoon. Sitting on your sofa, your eyes closed; the sound of other people working, arguing, living is far in the background, like a soundtrack you'd barely notice unless you turned it off. You feel the breeze coming from the window, gently caressing your face. It's so light, so quiet and calm, you enjoy it. You just stand there, relaxing for a minute. Nothing important floats in your mind, you forget for a moment all the trouble at work, your partner constantly nagging, strangers being mean to you.

Most people must be familiar with that kind of situation, yet it's so hard to find it represented on film. Rarely characters sit down, enjoy the breeze, calmly and quietly reflect about the world that surrounds them. Too often characters need to get going, to wrap their personality around a linear packaging so that the 'average viewer' will understand their predicament. Despite having so many different personalities to choose from, the emotional wavelengths displayed on screen are often confined to the obvious, the 'normal.' We're often guilty of making a weird fetish out of difference, put a flashy label on it, making assumptions about the characters that embody those lifestyles. Take victims of psychological trauma: seldom realistically conveying the different way those people approach relationships, the way they express their feelings, the way they think, the way they suffer, often in silence, concealing their pain inside them. The small world those individuals enter when suffering a big trauma is rarely open to other visitors; it's hard to relate to it, since it might not be part of what we consider within the boundaries of our acceptable social practices.

Take Jung-Hye (Kim Ji-Soo), our heroine. Her alarm clock never misses a day, even on Sunday, when others sleep, she stills keeps the habit of waking up early. She works at a post office, repeating the same routine every day. She goes out drinking with her colleagues, more because she doesn't want to make her work environment even less friendly that she feels it is. She walked away from a comfortable marriage, lives alone, rarely allowing people to get past that barrier she puts in front of them. So what's so charming about this girl? There are certainly reasons for Jung-Hye's behavior and psychological state, but thankfully this is not the kind of film that throws all the answers at you, trying to explain, to force a judgment out of the viewer. The film is set up like Jung-Hye's personality: very reluctant to show any kind of emotion at the beginning; slowly allowing details, jigsaw pieces to emerge, to help describe her inner pain and the way she deals with it. Flashbacks that help her characterization are dealt with as if they were happening to us. Looking at an old book brings up memories of who gave it to her; that tickling sensation Jung-Hye's newfound companion --a little cat-- creates on her feet reminding of the soft touch of her mother. That realistic approach to storytelling not only makes you care about the character, but also avoids judging the way she lives, making Jung-Hye a really striking and realistic example of how you can't really tell what lies inside people, only looking at them from the outside.

Taking inspiration from the little known novel '정혜' (Jung-Hye) by Woo Ae-Ryung, director Lee Yoon-Gi's subtle hand in dealing with Jung-Hye is a nice change of pace from arthouse films so much in love with their alleged diversity to fall in the same traps of their lewder commercial cousins. His decision to use handheld for the entire film helps us understand Jung-Hye's world. Extremely close in the comfort of her home, honest, natural; creating a distance when the film moves to the outside world, going far away when emotions enter the picture. The editing also helps immensely: balancing between the long takes of Hong Sang-Soo and Hou Hsiao-Hsien and quicker paced fast cuts to show the images that form inside her mind. The near absence of music, and the attention to sound design can only help to focus our attention on the character.

Who would have cast someone like Kim Ji-Soo in a role like this? A fashion leader, a popular TV Drama star, appearing in some classics like 종합병원 (General Hospital) and 산 (Manaslu), a beautiful woman who had been a familiar face with Korean audiences for over a decade. But director Lee summed it up better than anyone else could: "Should we make all the beautiful women on film happy? Or do the opposite to all ugly women? Of course not." Kim is the woman we all know, the one we judge on the surface, because of her appearance. Opting for a natural look, not enhancing Kim's beauty nor making her uglier (like a Hollywood film would, to make her more sympathetic) is one of the film's biggest merits. Kim, making her film debut, reprises her role in 종합병원 (General Hospital) to an extent, but I was really surprised she chose this film for her first venture into the big screen; I rather expected her to take the same road as Jeon Do-Yeon, starting out with safer commercial films to later venture into more serious roles. But her natural portrayal of a traumatized woman is excellent, showing an attention to detail, especially as far as her facial expression is concerned, that was hard to expect, since she was misused for the better part of the last 5 years, with roles that didn't let her acting talent shine.

You might think Hwang Jung-Min's character is just a plot device, a throwaway role, but it's because he pays attention to the same details Kim does that we understand why she goes to him first. His character shows patterns similar to Jung-Hye's: apparently introverted, showing he lives following habits (going to the same supermarket, buying similar things, shipping the same kind of packages) just like her. The fact the character is only highlighted on the surface puts us on the same level as Jung-Hye: we understand this might be the kind of man who wouldn't hurt her. That he wasn't like the others, so an approach was possible. Now not delving into the character a little more might just mean that, since Jung-Hye doesn't really know him that well—and this film is very much in tune with her feelings, as far as pacing, editing and storytelling structure goes—there's no need to know more about him. Who knows, he might turn out to be different from what she expected. But the important thing is that she decided to open herself to someone, because she didn't sense the same level of distance she'd naturally feel with other people. With him, she wouldn't be a strange, anti-social freak, but just a person. That kind of attention to details is what makes this little film even more enjoyable. That depth that is subtly hinted at, but never forces its way out of the picture, grabbing you and forcing you to make a judgment. And when the meeting finally takes places, Lee is even smarter in closing the door, keeping up with Jung-Hye's emotional sensibility up to the end. Would she allow us to see her take her most important decision in a long time? I think not.

I'm not saying this is a masterpiece, but after all these years, I think I've learned to cherish the non-masterpiece. The film that doesn't break incredible new grounds but leaves you with a good impression. Where acting, directing and production values seem to work together to build a cohesive unit, where the story isn't as predictable as you expected. The subtlety and distance—never too close, never too far—with which the argument is approached make this a refreshing change of pace from the obnoxious arthouse fare that thinks it's saying something interesting, and the commercial Cinema that doesn't even try to do that. The warmth hidden inside Jung-Hye's psyche might not be easy to get accustomed to, but with time and patience, you'll start to appreciate how charming this girl really is. And the film with her.


Presentation is quite good. The print is free from dirt or any other problem, contrast and colour saturation excellent. There's no significant compression artifacts or similar faults. Skin notes look tremendously natural—and it's very important here, with so many closeups—and the subtle lighting of the film is well represented. Audio track mostly focuses on the front channels, with clear and crisp dialogue.
The subtitles are good, decent translation, no timing or grammar mistakes, nice and clearly readable font.


Commentary with Director Lee Yoon-Gi, Producer Yoon Il-Joong, Kim Ji-Soo
I don't see the point of calling someone when he talks for three combined minutes (PD Yoon), but the other two engaged in an interesting discussion, mostly focused on the shooting conditions, and what they wanted to achieve in the different scenes. Here's a few highlights:
- The first scene was much faster, opening with Jung-Hye in her school days, showing her painful memories. Kim Ji-Soo didn't actually know it was taken off until the press screening, but she liked it anyway.
- The book Jung-Hye spots at the beginning is another novel from Woo Ae-Ryung (whose novel was adapted for this film). The director got permission from her and added it, because his daughter liked the pictures on it.
- The first shooting at the post office, they shot one long take first. Then they went back and filmed individual cuts, to edit them together later. They all highlighted how much pain the Director of Photography must have felt, carrying around the handheld camera for the entire film.
- The rhythm of the film was set to the characters' feelings, so that was really hard to achieve realistically.
- They praised the little cat, saying they didn't even have one NG thanks to the good performance. They planned to use two, but the second was too big, too unruly and smelled too much (!).
- Kim Ji-Soo comments how she often watches Home Shopping Networks when she's at home, and the impulse buying addiction she falls into. People might think Jung-Hye ordered the kimchi because she couldn't do it, but the director thought of it more as curiosity, trying if it was good or not.
- The director talked about how some scenes might be uncomfortable to watch because of the handheld style, but they wanted to do it completely handheld to fit with Jung-Hye's state of mind.
- The scene when the book arrives and Jung-Hye puts in on her bookshelf was supposed to end with her shedding a tear, but Kim couldn't do it on the spot, it was too hard. Director Lee agrees that crying in scenes like that is the most difficult part of being an actor.
- The three talked about how little gestures can sometimes tell more than facial expression. Like when Jung-Hye's aunt calls, and she plays around with her hands nervously.
- At the funeral room, Kim jokes how it this was another film, she'd be crying her heart out to over the top music.
- The two talk about how wasting the cat food is even more painful for Jung-Hye. Kim has a cat home and always feels sorry when it doesn't want to eat, but for Jung-Hye, who has no relationships outside her house, she also worries the cat might die and leave her alone.
- Director Lee comments how ironic the scene where Jung-Hye' neighbor complains about her alarm clock is, when her dog's barking is making even more noise. Both alarm and the barking were recreated later as foley effects.
- They praise Kim Hye-Ok's natural acting, and Kim Ji-Soo talks about how they put something sweet like chocolate on her foot, so that the cat would start licking it.
- Back inside the post office, they talked about how everybody was acting as if it was a real job. Since they didn't know when and where the handheld camera would move, they kept working naturally.
- The scene with Jung-Hye's former fiance was really uncomfortable and awkward for her. She worried a lot on how to portray someone who was supposed to be angry, but was hiding it inside. The director brought up the point that he didn't want to make the other party a bad person. It's just that sometimes you do things that hurt other people. In fact, what Jung-Hye did hurt him, maybe as much as all the little bad things he did to her.
- Director Lee jokes how he stole the 'blue sky' scene at the school from Christmas in August, and Kim says she loved the colour of the sky.
- Lots of people were surprised at Jung-Hye's sudden invitation. They didn't expect her to react like that. But he pointed out her unique charm.
- They took off a taxi scene before the one with the salesman, because it was very similar. She takes a cab, and inside the driver starts talking down to her, so people might have misunderstood the scene after as a reaction to the taxi scene. He's sorry to the actor playing the cab driver Park Cheol-Min, who did a great job, but the scene didn't fit the tone the director wanted.
- Kim said how it was hard to relate to Jung-Hye's personality, but as the shoot went on, through questions with the director and experiencing the character's way of life, she finally understood it. The fact that she wasn't your average woman suffering from depression wasn't so easy to digest at first.
- The two talked about how people thought she suddenly left work to go after the man, but they actually shot a few scenes where she's struggling to decide on what to do, but they were cut.
- The director commented how strange it would have been to see the two eat alone with all that food around them. It could have been almost like a scene out of a black comedy.
- Shooting the scene with Seo Dong-Won, the people around him were actually his friends. He asked the director to cut them in, and did a good job. A lot of people were surprised she went after him, that it was not fitting her character to do something so sudden and so irresponsible. Seo even asked the director if he could drink for real, Hong Sang-Soo style, to look even more like a drunk person. When she takes the knife, it wasn't because of her intention to use it later with her uncle, but actually because she didn't want the drunk guy to hurt himself anymore.
- The two confirmed what I suspected watching the film, that the guy drinking at one of the tent bars in Namdaemoon, while Jung-Hye walks all night, is in fact actor Lee Won-Jong. This has to be the shortest cameo ever.
- A lot of people didn't understand how she could abandon the cat like that. But since she didn't know what she'd do in the future, and she felt she was holding the cat against his will, she brought him back to the habitat he was more familiar with.
- When they shot the scene at the park with Lee Dae-Yeon, the DP worried he could be seen reflected on Kim Ji-Soo's pupils, since he was so close.
They talked a lot about whether she should have hit her uncle or not, but Woo Ae-Ryung told him there was no way someone like Jung-Hye would commit an act of violence like that, so decided to keep it as it was.
- During the last crying scene, the director admitted that while it was good, the greed to shoot something even more striking was strong. He wanted to show that crying without the sound of crying. The way people who've never cried before (or not for a long time) do. But he understands how that would have been nearly impossible for everybody.
- Kim was really worried about what kind of facial expression she should have used in the last scene. But Hwang Jung-Min reassured her, that it was the audience's job to find that out from her look. The director notes how she slightly moves her bag the moment he calls her.
- In conclusion, the two argue that this is the kind of film that might leave you apathetic the moment you watch it, but then thoughts surface a few days later that help you make a general idea. And that was the intention of the director in the first place. Making something deep, something that needed to be reflected upon to be appreciated.

제작 과정 (Making Of) [41:06]
The usual making of documentary, filled with comments from cast and crew, and behind the scenes footage. You can either watch the single section or the entire thing.

- 지수가 아닌 정혜 (A Jung-Hye unlike Ji-Soo)
DP Choi Jin-Yong talks about the challenges of working in a film like this, deviating from the rules of commercial cinema. Kim Ji-Soo introduces the content of the film, about a woman carrying the painful memories of her childhood inside her, slowly changing when she finds interest in a new person. Choi, before casting Kim, read the script and thought it presented a kind of woman the average public didn't know about, a pale and frail woman. But hearing the news that Kim got cast, he thought the image she built on Tv for the last decade fit really well with this character. It was good casting in his opinion. He talked about how they made the set for Jung-Hye's apartment, avoiding to make it too pretty, paying attention to details that would fit with her personality. Choi knew Director Lee prepared a long time for this film, and he got the feeling he was trying to make something profound at first. But as he got to know him and his working style, he also felt he was constantly looking to find new things. Taking this kind of challenge and working with him was a good experience. Kim Ji-Soo talked about the kind of acting the director wanted from her: to feel a certain emotional state without showing it, beyond her facial expression. That was really hard to get used to, even only walking without an expression was harder than acting or any dialogue.
- 식도락 (食道樂, Gastronomic Addiction/Enjoying The Good Life)
Mostly showing Kim Ji-Soo eating, having fun fooling around on the set. She admitted she was a little nervous since this was her first film. Nervous about not having more time to prepare. But she approached the shoot without thinking about any transformation, just because it was a film. She just acted as naturally as she could.
-일이 시작되면 (Starting Work)
They show the various sets and locations. The motel scene was shot where the SBS TV Drama 태양의 남쪽 (South of The Sun) was shot a few years ago. DP Choi talks about all the problems they had shooting at a real post office. He also commented that, while carrying around that heavy handheld camera was hard, it was a burden he had to let go as a camera operator. Kim commented that acting for so long with a handheld camera so close to her was a little uncomfortable. Not knowing where the camera would be, if it got her expression right, it was something that took a while to get accustomed to.
-그리울꺼야 (I'll Miss It)
Basically a farewell scene with some of the cast members saying a few words about the end of shooting. I loved the cake they made for Kim at the end, with a flower vase design. She was really touched, especially when they gave her this strange glass clock, one half showing the time, the other her face. Really nice. The clip closes with the crew shooting a group photo.

그들만의 이야기 (Their Personal Story) [10:44]
A clip with interviews with the cast and DP Choi, some (few, thankfully) repeated from the previous featurette.
Hwang Jung-Min talks about how it's impossible for artists, especially those catering to the masses, to predict the reactions and expectations of the viewers. What's a good or bad film, what they want to see. With that in mind, he always tries to diversify his roles. Kim Ji-Soo describes her character as a normal woman, whose only difference is not being able to express her feelings. DP Choi talks about how they tried to distance themselves from other Korean films in not beautifying Jung-Hye, creating new angles on how to interpret her personality. Kim felt a little sad about Jung-Hye, because unlike other people she couldn't communicate her feelings to others. But although they have very little in common == in terms of personality—she can understand how she feels.
Hwang went to the same school with Kim, WHEN he went to school, that is. He didn't see her too often on TV since it's something he doesn't watch. He had this first impression of her being a distant person, due to the tone of her voice and the way she looked. But getting to know her, he found out she's a person with a lot of warmth and a caring personality. Kim thinks that more than an actor who tries hard, he's someone who's crazy for acting, who loves it to death. She always liked him for that, and is really thankful she got the chance to work with him. DP Choi talks about how Kim has a face many people are accustomed to, but they tried to give some diversity, even though the image she built on TV helped a little.
Kim comments that a lot of good films are being made right now, but the really good scripts are few and far between. Now that she's getting a little older, she wants to work on something that will make her proud. She's not talking about the scale of the film, but something that fits her personality, something she can relate to. More than a transformation, she's looking for something with a little more depth.

Continuity [14:33]
Storyboards from six scenes, with a split screen. The storyboard on the left, the film on the right, with description of the shoot under that. Too much space wasted considering it only covers half of the screen.

오디션 (Audition) [12:54]
Kim Mi-Sung (the married postal worker) is shown introducing herself at the audition. They show clips of her reading a few scenes while the film plays in the background. They ask her about the other films she's preparing for, too. They do the same for Kim Mi-Mi (the other postal worker), who's either improvising or reading parts of the adapted novel since it's dialogue that's not in the film (of course it might be part of the deleted scenes). Other actors shown taking the audition are Kang Jae-Eun (shoe salesman, who's definitely reading from the novel here), the other shop employee, the man playing the quick delivery worker (Park Ju-Hong), one of the women at the funeral (Choi Hyun-Sook), and Seo Dong-Won (the drunk man, who is a muay thai aficionado!), trying his 'drunken acting.'

PR 모음 (PR Selection)

- Trailer [1:58]
A bit too much exposition and spoilers in this, but it's kind of inevitable. I like the line that starts with 사랑 (Love) and then fades to ...할수 있다는 희망 (...hoping to experience it).
- Music Video, 이소라 (Lee So-Ra) - 바람이 분다 [4:20]
Great song from one of my favourite singers, Lee So-Ra. She has a deep, dark voice, always great melodies and a charisma that you will feel even without knowing a word of Korean. This is off her latest album (the 6th) 눈썹달. But, frankly, it kind of makes this look like a melodrama.
- 시사회 (Premiere) [3:48]
Your average press screening/premiere clip, with soundbites from the interviews, the introduction at the PIFF, and shots of the crowd's reaction. Popular (and cute!) TV MC Kang Su-Jung, Kim Joo-Hyeok, Jung Woong-In, Kim Tae-Woo and others comment about the film.
- 토스터 촬영 (Poster Shoot) [5:15]
Opens with still photos of Kim Ji-Soo, and some footage from the poster shoot next to the Han River, and the other locations.

Considering how independent and arthouse films get treated when they reach the DVD format, we shouldn't complain too much about this release's extra features. A good commentary and a decent documentary seem enough, but you always get the feeling that some deleted scenes, interviews that go a little more in depth and maybe a couple of NG clips wouldn't have hurt. But the presentation is good, and the film is a little gem waiting for your attention. If you like quiet, subtle films that don't make women an object of fetish, this is a good catch.

DVD Specs

Audio: Korean Dolby Digital 5.1
English and Korean Subtitles
1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, NTSC, Dual Layer, Region 3
Released By Bear Entertainment on 4/21/2005

Related Links:
Lee So-Ra's 6th Album

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