Jeong-hae (Kim Ji-Soo) works at the post office, serves everyone with the same simple routine—even the man she has a crush on—and drives her coworkers crazy with almost completely silent conversation and an insistence on eating at the same restaurant every day. The South Korean film “This Charming Girl,” making its North American debut at the Sundance Film Festival, manages to create a delicate, quiet character study without becoming insufferably pretentious. With his first feature, Lee Yoon-ki shows a gift for studying subdued and internally conflicted characters that won him the New Currents Award at the Pusan International Film Festival.
Kim, whose previous credits are all TV work, debuts impressively in a demanding performance that requires strong work in every scene. Towards the end of the film, with Jeong-hae in a state of emotional uncertainty, a situation of potentially damning consequences comes out of nowhere as the heroine considers a way to release her emotions. The camera holds on Kim’s face as she experiences a rush of emotions before reaching a conclusion. This surprising, simple scene brings out the core of the character and makes some of the film’s less engaging moments more significant.
A character who says little and lives in a depressed funk always poses difficulties in a protagonist, as many past and present Sundance films have shown. While Lee and Kim fall into some of these repetitive trappings, their delicate handling of quiet moments and an interesting structure keep the film engaging. Lee gradually reveals the Jeong-hae’s past, which has tragedies that amplified an already existing fear of the outside world. Her efforts to solve these interior problems by keeping to herself are futile, and she will eventually have to open up to the rest of the world if she is to survive.