Director Han Jun-Hee introduced Coin Locker Girl as a “fun” film. He said that he doesn’t joke much but he made a fun movie and hoped we would have fun with it. And either his translator really missed the point of his introduction, or Han Jun-Hee is a sick man. Because Coin Locker Girl is a lot of things, but fun isn’t one of them.
It feels like a debut film. It’s inconsistent and unpolished, both visually and narratively. But it’s also compelling, turning a relatively traditional structure on its head by putting a female in a starring role that would traditionally go to a male. Loan sharks are scary people. Cute loan sharks are somehow even more scarier. And the character’s initially disaffected demeanor is pretty terrifying. It’s almost unforunate, then, how easily she’s softened by a cute boy who makes her food and takes her to movies. There’s not a lot of effort made to really justify the transition from hardened criminal to dress-wearing la-dee-da (something the character acknowledges, though I don’t really think that justifies it), and it’s unfortunate… But it’s also kind of fascinating, because it’s not a film about the transformation. It’s a film about the repercussions of that transformation. And there are repercussions, to be sure. The result of Il-Young’s decision to like a boy ends with as much bloodshed as you’d expect from a Korean thriller (which is to say, quite a bit).
And for the most part, it works. Sometimes character motivations are unclear, servicing the overall plot rather than the characters’ own desires, but the pace is fast enough that you can gloss over the particulars and just get into the journey. It’s a thrill ride to be sure, one you’ll be glad you took. But once you get off, your first thought definitely won’t be, “Well that was fun.”
Coin Locker Girl (Chinatown | 차이나타운)
Director: Han Jun-Hee
Country: South Korea