2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! For victims of extreme bullying, the advent of the internet has been a both a blessing and a curse. Used in a positive way, the internet allows the bullied to anonymously seek solace with others who share their emotional scars on message boards and chats rooms without ever having to leave the safety of their bedroom. But there is of course also the dark side: cyberbully’ing, suicide pacts and the fact that anonymity is a two way street, meaning that you can never really be sure of the motives of people you’ve only met online.
Opening with an online exchange between chat room users, “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” tells the story of Je-hwi (Im Ji-gyu), a young man so traumatized by the bullying he received in high-school that he seldom emerges from his small room in the apartment he shares with his parents. Things start to look up when he meets Jang-hui (Yun So-si), who despite her kind heart and obvious concern for Je-hwi, is similarly trapped in that awkward time between high-school and adulthood, a fact emphasized by her collection of technical school degrees in everything from hair-dressing to welding. Their interactions are awkward and Je-hwi frequently lashes out at the more passive Jang-hui, yet she keeps returning to try to make him open up.
This budding romance is put in perile when Je-hwi runs into one of his high-school tormentors, Pyo (Pyo Sang-u), casually in an arcade one night. Lacking true friends, or the ability to tell the difference, Je-hwi accepts an invitation to hang-out with Pyo and his girlfriend, Rom (Im Ji-yeon) only to find that their old power dynamic is still in place. A bitter Je-hwi reaches out on the internet, setting in motion a chain of events that will profoundly change all of their lives.
Already earning comparisons to Park Chan-wook’s “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” Yang Hea-hoon’s debut feature is actually a much quieter and sadder look at a revenge plot gone awry. It eschews flashy editing and hyperbolic situations, playing more like an eulogy for something that never existed. The violence is more emotional than visceral and the young cast is uniformly strong, although Im Ji-gyu is particularly touching in her portrayal of a lost girl just looking for love.
The film is also infused with a strong sense of the isolation and frequent inhumanity of contemporary Korean culture. A suicide victim’s body lying by the side of a building under a tarp is left unnoticed for close to a week. Merchants resort to vigilantism to defend their sense of justice and furniture falls from the sky. This melancholy is echoed in the muted cinematography and blurry, natural color palette as well as the naturalistic shooting style.
Sure, bully movies are a dime a dozen in Asia, but while it lacks the operatic flourishes or Hollywood gloss of mainstream Korean cinema, the film is clearly differentiated by strong characterization and a simple story. Too simple for some, perhaps, but for those looking for finely crafted storytelling, “Who’s That Knocking At My Door?” is very much worth seeking out.