Seen in Jeonju

The Door of the Body (1965)

10th October 2009

door to the bodyOriginally posted November 27, 2007— When I heard saw that EBS was going to be showing a movie by Lee Bong-rae on Sunday night, I wasn’t sure that I was going to stay up to see it.  After all, I had seen a couple of his films already and, while they are not bad, they did not really interest me. Both Lee’s A Salaryman  and A Petty Middle Manager focused on troubled businessmen, the first about an honest man unjustly fired by a corrupt supervisor who sees the man as an obstacle to his potentially embezzling money and the latter about the dangers of office gossip.  The Door of the Body also features employment quite heavily especially how society views different jobs.    However, unlike the previously mentioned films, I found it to be genuinely entertaining. The action is entirely character driven and Jeon Ok as the elderly madame and Bang Seong-ja as the younger sister add a great deal of interest to the film with their performances.

The movie stars Kim Hye-jeong as Eun-sook who goes to Seoul from an unidentified country town to find employment.  Easily identified at the train station as a country bumpkin by her dress and the way she is ogling the city, she is approached by a middle-aged woman. Despite her respectable dress and appearance, we viewers are immediately put on guard against her because of her shifty actions–the way she watches others and the determined glint in her eyes that shows she has something up her sleaves. To the lost country girl, she is all sweetness–offering a place to stay for the night and a high-paying job that she can start right away.  Unfortunately, the kindly older woman is actually a madame out collecting new prostitutes–kidnapping unsuspecting innocents from the train station and depriving them of a way to get home until it is too late.

The opening scene is quite short and the next time we see Eun-sook, her pigtails and hanbuk are gone and an older, more experienced woman, stands before us.  She is no longer a prostitute, but works as a massuese in a bath house. She and the other workers scrub and massage the clients and look after each other making sure that their clients don’t become too friendly. Although she appears to be making s decent living, she wants to get out of that job where she is continually mistaken for a prostitute to open a beauty salon. For that she needs one million won which she does not have.

One of the reasons that she does not have the money is because she is frequently blackmailed by her former madame. The older woman, now toothless, shabby and vulgar–all pretext of sophistication having rotted away–threatens to expose Eun-sook’s past to her neighbors and get her kicked out of her modest apartment if she doesn’t pay her regularly.  She does seem to have the chance for a loan however in the form of Choi Man-seok whom she finds herself falling in love with.

Then Eun-sook’s younger sister shows up on her doorstep with a suitcase in hand saying that she has also left home and wants to work in the big city. At first Eun-sook is against it and makes plans to send the girl back home on the first train, but then takes pity on her and lets her stay in the house doing light housework for a small allowance. However, when Eun-sook goes to work, her sister is visited by the old madame who immediately sees a chance to make some money with this innocent looking young lady.  She pimps the girl out for the night but the girl proves to be far less innocent and helpless than everyone assumed. Not only does she willingly sleep with the man she was set up with, for a fee, but she also robs him before he wakes up and sets up some more clients for herself. But she takes things a step to far when she successfully seduces Man-seok in Eun-sook’s home and her older sister walks in on them.

I have to say again how good Jeon Ok as the old woman and Bang Seong-ja as the sister are.  Even though they go a little over the top with their acting at times, it is both believable and enjoyable–you can’t wait for them to get screen time against when their scenes are finished.  And their is another interesting scene when the massage palor girls take an outing to a ‘Women Only’ spa and get facials and massages. They engage a little in ‘turnabout is fairplay’ tactics–teasing and groping at the male workers pampering them.

This is another film that you should be on the lookout for–not yet on DVD, but an excellent candidate to be.

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