Nobody’s Daughter Haewon is a playful coming-of-age story, journeying into the quietly surreal world of our eponymous heroine. It’s hard to know if she’s likeable however, as director Hong Sang-soo and actress Jeong Eun-chae conspire to paint a complex and, at times, irritating female lead.
The film opens with Haewon writing in her diary and then falling asleep (a recurring theme) as she waits to meet her mother. The relationship between the two is bizarre, seemingly both incredibly intimate and deliberately distanced, as her mother drops the bombshell that she is emigrating to Canada indefinitely. This news dramatically affects young Haewon, who you already sense is an unsettled sort, so she calls her professor Seongjun for some moral support. It quickly becomes apparent that they were recently involved in an extra-marital affair and the plot thickens as Seongjun unravels his maddening love for her and Haewon, in turn, struggles to decide what she really wants from him, from love and ultimately from life.
Lilting gently from waking reality to dreamlike events, this chapter in Haewon’s story is delivered with such subtle tact and silent import that you’re left wondering which moments are real and which fantasy. Actress and model Jeong Eun-chae is kinetic as Haewon: a quiet, sickly cute and enigmatic portrayal of a girl in transition between adolescence and womanhood. Disliked by her peers but (maybe because of being) an irresistible siren to men, she drifts through her days with a selfish determination that isn’t entirely endearing. There are clear ‘daddy’ issues as there’s no mention of a father figure throughout and she seems destructively drawn to older men to plug that void.
It’s a stylish film punctuated using the narrative nuance of dreams, repetition and circularity, embodied charismatically by Jeong Eun-chae and directed gently by Hong Sang-soo. Although the quirkiness may rub some up the wrong way, if you can let it wash over you then this is a pleasantly melancholic film about love and life’s struggles, albeit one that you may well enjoy more after the affair than during.