The Korean independent film scene continues to thrive with “Who’s that Knocking at my Door?” which marks the feature length debut of writer director Yang Hae Hun, whose short “My Dear Rosetta” screened to acclaim at Cannes. Taking its title from the debut effort of legendary American director Martin Scorcese, the film appears to have been inspired by his classic “Taxi Driver” in particular, dealing with themes of loneliness, anger, and ultimately revenge. Having been one of the stars of the 2007 Pusan Film Festival, the film has won Yang some impressive reviews, marking him as one of the most interesting and promising young directors working in Korea today.
The film follows a hikkimori style loner called Je Hwi (Lim Ji Gyu, recently in “Milky Way Liberation Front”) who, traumatised by the bullying he suffered at high school, has shut himself away from the world, communicating only through his computer. One day, he decides to take a walk, and meets Jang Hui (Yun So Si), a shy seeming girl who brings him out of his shell somewhat, even persuading him to let her to cut his long, unruly hair. His hesitant steps towards a more normal life falter as he runs into Pyo (actor Pyo Sang Woo, also in Kim Ki Duk’s “The Bow”) and Rom (Lim Ji Yeon, “Innocent Steps”), two of his former classmates and tormentors. Although Pyo is quite obviously still a nasty piece of work, he and Rom seem happy enough to see Je Hwi, and even appear to be unaware of the hurt they caused him in the past. Despite this, Je Hwi’s old painful memories soon surface, and when Choi (Jo Seong Ha), a strange man he met over the internet, gets involved, things take a turn for the violent.
“Who’s that Knocking at my Door?” is a film which defies expectations and never panders to the kind of revenge fantasy that the premise might have suggested. Best described as the character study of a damaged young man, it explores the angst and isolation of young people in modern Korea, effectively portraying a sense of frustration and disaffection. The tangential narrative unfolds in a pleasingly offbeat manner, with Yang jumping between characters, and hinting at rather than explicitly defining events and motivations, often forcing the viewer to fill in the details themselves. This approach works well, and the story is engaging and interesting, with several imaginative and well handled twists along the way to the odd, Kim Ki Duk style conclusion, which if nothing else certainly serves to underline the film’s indie credentials.
Je Hwi does not make for a traditional protagonist, and despite the unspecified bullying he suffered is never portrayed as a tragic hero, frequently being aggressive and unlikeable, and making a number of obtuse and daft decisions through the course of the film. However, more importantly, he cuts a very human and believable figure, and his social awkwardness is only too convincing. As such, his relationship with Jang Hui is fascinating and touching, especially since Yang plays it not so much for romance, but as a possibly unwanted lifeline to normalcy. The ambiguity of their relationship and the strange dynamic between Je Hwi and Pyo add a discordant sense of tension to the proceedings, and keep the viewer gripped, even before the violence of the final act. By not offering a clear cut moral high ground, when the film does descend into brutality, it is all the more ruthless, and although not especially explicit, there are a few genuinely shocking scenes. As such, the film is at times reminiscent of Park Chan Wook’s “Sympathy for Mr Vengeance”, and benefits from the same bleakly non-judgemental approach.
Yang directs with a naturalistic style, using no artificial lighting or visual effects. Shot on digital video, the film shifts between shaky handheld camera work and static scenes, often at odd angles. Yang throws in a number of original touches to give a certain sense of flair, such as text appearing on screen during Je Hwi’s many internet sessions, accompanied evocatively by the loud clicking of the computer keyboard. Although the film’s budget was obviously very low, it never looks cheap, and again proves that talented directors do not need money or technical trickery to tell a powerful story.
This is certainly the case with “Who’s that Knocking at my Door?”, and it stands as a most impressive piece of independent film making which transcends its lowly roots and works both as a thriller and psychological drama. Yang lives up to the plaudits, and it will definitely be very interesting to see what he does next.
Yang Hae-hoon (director) / Yang Hae-hoon (screenplay)
CAST: Lim Ji-gyoo, Yoon So-si, Jo Seong-ha, Pyo Sang-woo , Lim Ji-yeon, Lee Jae-yong