PIFF Report: American Alley

Yesterday turned out to be prostitution day at the cinema. After walking out on the atrocious Exhausted, I took in the documentary American Alley at the Megabox in Haeundae. Director Kim Dongryung captured extended periods in the lives of Russian and Filipino women who come to Korea to work as “entertainers” (prostitutes) for American GIs.

Most of the film concentrates on the daily lives of these women — primarily in the home, but also at the hospital and (only very briefly) on the job. Kim presents their stories through very candid interviews, some captured late at night, some while the women are drunk. It’s done in a very spontaneous and intimate manner, as if Kim said “I’m going to turn on the camera now.” The women struggle with issues of money, fears of being deported, and, interestingly, trying to find love (or at least security) and trying to build a family so they can escape the alley.

Even with the intimacy, I found the director to be very detached from her subjects. I got the feeling she developed close relationships with these people, but she did everything she could to remove herself from the film. There was no voiceover, you never saw her, and you rarely heard her speak, even though she was a part of their lives. Sometimes documentary directors try too hard to “tell the story” and don’t want to compromise authenticity. But I wish more directors would remember that there is no “the” story. There is only “a” story, one that you are telling. It’s impossible to expect someone to feel enough passion to make a film and then try to pretend to be objective. So I wish we got a bit more editorializing, a bit more emotion from the director.

Regardless, her film was an fascinating slice of the cultural collisions that are such a big part of Korea. Most interesting was the Filipino woman trying to hold on to her family. She’s smart, insightful and brave, and Kim got some great footage of her and her family. I’ve only heard about Russian and Filipino prostitution in Korea in passing and it was interesting to learn about it through the people who live it.

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2 Responses to “PIFF Report: American Alley”

  1. Are there any documentaries about Korean prostitution?

  2. I don’t see any in the program book. There is one doc, not about prostitution, but about sex slaves during WWII called “63 Years On.” I don’t think it’s exclusive to Koreans, but it is a Korean director.

    Here’s the program schedule:
    http://www.piff.org/eng/html/schedule/date.asp?day1=3

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