Transferred to a small seaside village after an unexplained disgrace, promising young Seoul Police academy graduate Young-nam (Bae Doona) becomes the confidante to troubled local girl Do-hee (Kim Sae-ron). The girl tells Young-nam about the abuse she suffers at the hands of her gangmaster step father Yong-ha. The vulnerability of Do-hee and her situation exposes Young-nam’s longing for love, and the pair begin an unsettling and ambiguous relationship.
The film opens with Do-hee being splashed by Young-nam’s car as she plays with a toad in the street. Whilst the characters do not meet for some time after this incident, this ominous collision of their worlds foreshadows their later relationship. Produced by two time Palme d’Or nominee Lee Chang-dong, July Jung’s multi-layered expose of bigotry and violence in Korean society sees Young-nam emerge as a persecuted victim. Her depiction of an outsider confronting a rural community’s sexism along with Do-hee’s docility towards the abuse is reminiscent of feminist revenge slasher ‘Bedeviled’ (dir. Kim Hyun-seok, 2010).
When Young-nam challenges Yong-ha’s behaviour, she’s seen as a meddler by her lower ranking colleagues and the local community. With many young people moving away from the area, the town’s income is precariously sustained by Yong-ha, who hires and supervises a foreign workforce of Oyster Farmers. As a result he displays an entitled attitude, supported by the docility of the people depending on him. His violence towards Do-hee intensifies on the death of her Grandma and Young-nam feels she has no choice but to take the girl in. This marks the start of a very complicated relationship as Do-hee’s devotion to her new guardian moves on from child like admiration.
This atmosphere is highlighted by Kim Hyun-seok’s beautifully lit close-ups of the women together bathing or hugging. As Do-hee demands more intimacy from her Young-nam’s attitude oscillates between authoritative, maternal and defensive. Do-hee’s confused adolescent state is heightened when Young-nam’s ex girlfriend Eun-jeong (Jang Hee-jin) visits, the meeting of the pair leading to a mental breakdown for Do-hee. News of Young-nam’s ex-girlfriend reaches Yong-ha and he quickly spreads salacious rumours about her motives for taking his step daughter under her wing.
The film concludes with a transition into suspenseful revenge drama courtesy of an extreme act on the part of Do-hee. Kim Hyun-seok’s bright cinematography lulls the viewer into a false sense of security leaving you unprepared for the final denouncement.