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Movie Review

Nobody's Daughter

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Director: Hong Han Soo

Starring: Jeong eun-chae, Seon-gyun-lee

Duration: 90 minutes

1 of 2 A tormented, tortured liaison between a drama student and her married teacher, starring Jeong eun-chae and Seon-gyun-lee
A tormented, tortured liaison between a drama student and her married teacher, starring Jeong eun-chae and Seon-gyun-lee
2 of 2 She phones him, they take up where they left off, despite the fact that Seon-gyun has a wife and young baby.
She phones him, they take up where they left off, despite the fact that Seon-gyun has a wife and young baby.

Nobody’s Daughter is set in a rainy, inclement South Korean city, an atmospheric, curiously soundless place. Haewon (Jeong Eun-Chae) is the young, individualistic drama student whose parents have separated. Her mother has just emigrated to Canada, she is suddenly vulnerable and lonely. Missing her terminated affair with drama teacher Seongjun (Seon- gyun-Lee), Haewon impulsively phones him. They meet in the rain, crouching under his umbrella, and take up where they left off, despite the fact that Seongjun still has a wife and young baby.

It is a tormented, tortured liaison. A café scene where Haewon's fellow drama students get drunk on rice wine is handled with a gripping sense of drama and intrigue. Haewon and her teacher are obliged to join the students, trying to pretend there was never anything between them. However, the students know about the affair, and have nothing but disdain for the pair.

Part of the charm of the film is the few locations: a nondescript street with a motel (not visited again) where teacher and student once made love; a café/ book shop on the same street; a city park, and a historic fort above the city. The movie has the feel of a small stage play, with unusual quietness. But there is a hell of a lot of smoking, and nobody in the film is very happy, although there are some curiously buoyant moments. Divorce and infidelity mark the lives of the few other characters too.

There are a couple of odd things. Actress and singer Jane Birkin has a cameo at the very beginning of the film in a histrionic, very unnecessary scene. A character declares that he is on the phone to Martin Scorsese at another point. The music that moves  Seongjun to tears is the signature chords of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, speeded up into a kind of rumba. This slice of what can only be termed elevator music is dear to the teacher’s heart, emanating scratchily from a cheap cassette player. 

Anyway, it was the thing that mystified your reviewer most about the entire film, how a man could so love such awful muzak, this travesty of a European classic. Maybe it was playing in the lift when they had that rendez-vous at the motel?

That said, Nobody’s Daughter has an interesting screenplay, fine acting and for sheer, oddball quirkiness deserves to be seen. Screening exclusively at the IFI.

Paddy Kehoe

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