With a red-light district in Seoul being demolished, the residents there find they have to relocate. Jin-a opts to leave Seoul and heads to the eastern city of Pohang. There she takes up residence in a boarding house run by a small family. Besides the parents, there is a daughter attending university and a son in high school. At first Jin-a is very happy there, however she continues to sell her body driving her into confrontation with the repressed daughter, Hye-mi. Things go from bad to worse when Jin-a meets Hye-mi's boyfriend... Written by
Thomas Giammarco <email@example.com>
One of Kim Ki-duk's earlier, lesser-seen films, "Birdcage Inn" portrays the hard times of a young Korean prostitute and the family that makes money off her in a Korean coastal city. As with all Kim's films, the plot is pretty ludicrous, but this one lacks much of the sensationalistic depravity that makes most of his films conversation pieces. Kim's really attracted to prostitutes and the business of prostitution - as, it seems, are many of his heroines (one character's transition at the end of the film foreshadows a similar character's change of heart in Kim's recent "Samaria"). He also seems to have a Mizoguchian love/hate feeling towards women. His girls may be whores but they have good hearts, and even though they may be smacked around repeatedly they persevere.
The main girl, Jin-a, has to be the prettiest whore in all of Korea working a seedy dive like the one depicted in "Birdcage Inn." She's down on her luck and is the sole income provider for this impoverished family and their little inn by the sea. The family, though, aren't really all that bad, they just have to put the kimchee on the table and the kids through school somehow. The high schooler son's obsessed with sad, muppet-faced Jin-a and installs a microphone in her room so he can listen in on her frequent trysts with customers. The father, well, aside from the time when he pretty much rapes Jin-a, he's an otherwise great guy. The mother takes it all stoically, which is more than can be said for the daughter, trying to get through university and court a potential fiancé amidst all the dirty business. She can't stand that her family resorts to such activities and she blames poor Jin-a for all of it. Still, "Birdcage Inn" eventually becomes the female-bonding film you figure it was intended to be from the get-go.
Like Lars von Trier, Kim tends to have his adorable lead actresses go through a good deal of pummeling and degradation in his films, and he continues to incur the wrath of feminists. But as I mentioned, despite its subject matter "Birdcage Inn" is probably the tamest of Kim's films until "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring," and actually manages to finish on a relatively upbeat note. At the end of "Birdcage Inn" the whore's still a whore and everyone's still stuck in a dead-end existence, but they're all oddly content and accepting, with a smiling, Ozu-like resolve.
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