Review: Samaria (Samaritan Girl, 2004)

Moralistic preaching is never good for anyone!

Written By: Ki-duk Kim
Directed By: Ki-duk Kim

Pegging Samaria as one type of movie or another is a futile effort. Ki-duk Kim has created in Samaria a film that is many different things. It is above all else the sum of its parts as opposed to a film with one standout element. Samaria is not a fast movie, nor is it an overtly showy film. That’s not to say that Kim-ssi’s visuals are not showy, but the images he puts on the screen come across so staid that they lose their showiness. There are many key moments in Samaria and all of them are earned moments. All of what I am typing speaks to the many working elements that make Samaria a most interesting watch.

The film opens as a simple tale of two young girls and their misguided exploits into the world of prostitution. The film slowly shifts its focus from those two girls to the father of one of the girls. While this shift is on the surface jarring, it is actually a rather seamless one. The film maintains a melancholy yet questioning and introspective tone throughout its three stages. By the time the film has finished it is very clear that Samaria is not a film with answers but a film more concerned with looking at the idea of moral outrage from different angles.

The dynamic that is formed between father and daughter in Samaria is the core of the moral dilemma in the film. Yeo-jin starts the film from a compromised moral high ground. She expresses her distaste for Jae-yeong, her friend and probable lover’s, actions. At the same time Yeo-jin is complicit in the actions of Jae-yeong, helping to set her up with clients and cleaning Jae-yeong up after she is done with her clients. Yeo-jin verbally attacks a couple of Jae-yeong’s clients, and takes an extreme moral high ground with them.

Then an event happens and Yeo-jin is forced to reconsider her moral stance as she finds a catharsis by entering a flipped around version of Jae-yeong’s proclivities. This is when Yeo-jin’s dad fully enters the picture and he becomes the character taking a morally upright position. At first I sympathized with Yeong-ki’s plight and shared his anger. I could understand his frustration at being deceived and his hurt at what he believed his daughter had become. Yet the further Yeong-ki took his moral outrage the more the film, and I as the viewer, turned against him. His actions were no better than the men he was condemning. And if he was so quick to condemn the men in his daughters life then why was he so willing to excuse Yeo-jin’s actions? His high morals let him down, they turn Yeong-ki into nothing more than the type of monster he believes those procuring his daughters favors to be.

Kim-ssi’s direction throughout the moral twists and turns of Samaria is rock solid. He does not condemn, he does not take a side, he simply shows what happens and allows the characters actions to do all the talking. Samaria has a lingering quality, Kim-ssi stages the film in such a way that it doesn’t impact right away. Rather, it stayed with me and impacted me the more I thought about what I had watched. There are bloody moments in Samaria and there are moments of terrible violence, but they are handled in a low key fashion. This helped the film to seep into my pores, and it slowly affected me as opposed to attempting to shock me into a reaction.

There are some heavy handed dialogue segments in Samaria, and there are a few sections of the film that were too whimsical. Those complaints aren’t enough to diminish the positive attributes of the film. Samaria is a film that goes in many directions and always manages to be interesting. Kim-ssi asks tough questions of morality and refuses to provide answers. It’s certainly not an easy watch, but Samaria is a very rewarding cinematic experience.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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