Nobody's Daughter Haewon

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"This apparently meandering, unfocused story conceals an acutely observed portrait of a society in flux."

"It's very simple," says the friend's married lover, admiring the design a flag flying from the top of a fort.

"Because of it, we can see the wind," observes the friend.

Copy picture

Haewon's story is deceptively simple, or at least superficially ordinary. She's a young student hoping to become an actress. She doesn't seem to have a relationship with her father and her mother is emigrating to Canada. Lonely, she tends to get swept up very quickly in chance encounters with an openness that enchants people, from the famous tourist who invites her to meet up if she's ever in Paris to the man who says he's looking for a wife, gives her a cheap watch and claims to know Martin Scorsese. The big romance in her life is with her professor, a film director who is also married and has a baby yet looks to her to take the lead in dealing with the social complications of their relationship. Still, there's something about Haewon that none of this seems able to touch.

With a name that translates roughly as 'graceful garden', Haewon displays the kind of beauty, youth and potential onto which other people instinctively project their own desires. She seems most comfortable with older people; those her own age mistake her distance for arrogance. But what Haewon is searching for may not ultimately depend on other people. As she moves towards understanding the world on her own terms, others' dreams are bound to be crushed.

Through this simple story and the country in which it is set, a wind is blowing. People mutter that Haewon isn't really Korean - "She's a mixed-blood" - and that she should emigrate because her personality is ill suited to its culture. It might be more accurate to say that she is ill suited to its traditions. Her mother admires her height but assures her she's no too tall; Haewon frets that perhaps she's too strong for a girl. She knows how to smile and make people feel happy but at heart she is forthright and brave, qualities generally only celebrated in men. Her circumstances have tipped her away from the traditional focus on family and duty toward a Western-style individualism, paralleling a subtler change that is taking place in the country at large.

This apparently meandering, unfocused story conceals an acutely observed portrait of a society in flux, old fashioned romance giving way to self determination. It has something in common with Woody Allen's observations of Seventies America, though it's less self-consciously witty. Jeong Eun Chae, in only her third film role, carries it effortlessly. See it if you can.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2013
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Nobody's Daughter Haewon packshot
With her mother about to emigrate and her affair gone stale, Haewon faces a challenging future.

Director: Hong Sang-soo

Writer: Hong Sang-soo

Starring: Jeong Eun-Chae, Lee Seon-gyun, Ye Ji-won, Yoo Joon-sang

Year: 2013

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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