Many would assume that the Tartan Video line is filled with strictly Asian horror and gore. They also manage to put out some pretty intense dramas. Kim Ki-duk, known primarily for his recent critically acclaimed "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring" has an earlier cult hit, "Samaritan Girl" which was recently released on DVD. Adding to my year of revenge movies, this hard to swallow drama spins a dark tale that will cover a variety of emotions. The cover may look innocent, but this movie packs a punch that will leave its mark on viewers.
The plot for this one is quite detailed. What starts out as a love story between two female friends transforms into a father's love for his daughter. The middle of the story is filled with prostitution, death, understanding, revelation, and revenge. Divided into three chapters, "Samaritan Girl" is a fairly straightforward story. Watching Yeo-jin recognize the evils around her and grow into a young woman is painful. The beautiful drama unfolds the different emotions when a child loses her innocence to the ways of the world. The blindness of Yeo-jin's love is quickly clouded by tragedy. As she deals with her sorrow, she picks up a trade that is frowned upon by all. It is with Yeo-jin's step into the world that she begins to understand how her love was merely a beginning to a whole new world of awareness and companionship.
I think many will assume that Jae-yeong and Yeo-jin are lesbians, but this may be a misunderstanding. I got the impression that the two girls were deep, loving friends. They were on a scale of friendship that is difficult to attain. Their unconditional love for one another is what binds the girls together, breaking down walls of sexuality. They look out for one another and take care of one another. It is this love that encourages Yeo-jin to seek out a deeper understanding of Jae-yeong in "Samaria", he second of the three chapters in the movie. There was never anything sexual between the two girls. Yeo-jin does not approve of her friend's profession, so she tries to cleanse her of these dirty deeds. Yeo-jin is clinging to innocence for both girls. We also see Yeo-jin's father try to hold his daughter's innocence in tact. Yeong-ki's moments at home with his little girl are touching. It is these tender moments that set up the painful last act of the film. We see both Yeo-jin and Yeong-ki struggle with a corrupt world tarnishing their fragile lives.
This is one of those titles that really separates American movies from foreign films. Maybe it is the different cultures or maybe it is the fear of releasing a movie that would be hard to market. Either way, the subject of teenage prostitution and sexuality is generally considered taboo for American movies. Even in dealing with sensitive subjects, Kim Ki-duk never portrays the subject in an offensive or exploitative way. He gently films his scenes, allowing the story to tell itself. It is a rare quality for a film to come as it is, and let people listen to the message.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is not quite up to par on Tartan's release. The colors are washed out and the look of the film seems far older than one that was released in 2004. There is quite a bit of grain throughout the picture and some minor edge enhancement is visible. The soft look of the film may be the director's intended purpose, but it comes across as bland on the DVD. The white subtitles never blend in with the action from the film, allowing those who don't speak Korean to follow the plot with ease.
A Korean Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 will fill your living room with beautiful music and rich sound. Being a drama, the focus is primarily on dialogue and music rather than effects and action. The rear speakers are used sparingly, but the overall mix is good. Also included is a Korean Dolby Digital 2.0 track. It loses some of the detail provided by the 5.1 tracks but does make good use of the front soundstage.
As with all Tartan discs, there are previews for other New Releases from the DVD company. Oddly enough, the trailer for "Samaritan Girl" is not on the disc. Also included is a photo gallery for those interested.
"Samaritan Girl" continues Tartan Video's string of releasing strong, edgy films. It is a terrific, underrated film and will surprise those who give it a spin. The picture quality may be soft, but the excellent audio will help carry the film. Those familiar with Kim Ki-duk's work will certainly enjoy this hard hitting drama. Some additional extra features would have made this an easy recommendation for purchase, but curious viewers should probably try and rent this one first.