Thursday, August 29, 2013

No Harm Done

Abigail Harm (2013) - Chung
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I've always liked Amanda Plummer. Her small, gravelly voice, her fawn-like demeanor, and her hidden ferocity have always gotten my attention in the many films in which I've seen her. It's that fragile, otherworldly quality of the seasoned actress that director Lee Isaac Chung (Munyurangabo) taps into and uses to maximum effect in his new feature film, Abigail Harm.

This modern day fairy tale is apparently loosely based on a Korean folklore, Woodcutter and the Nymph, which goes something like this:

Once there was a poor man who barely eked out a living off of cutting down and selling trees deep in the countryside. One day, he encountered a wounded deer in the forest. The animal pleaded with him to hide him from the hunters. This he did. In return, the deer let him in a secret on how to keep a heavenly nymph to be his wife. "You see, there is this lake where the nymphs take baths. All you have to do is steal one of their robes. One that remains after others ascend to heaven will be bound to you forever." This the poor, lonely man followed so....

But I'm sorry to tell you that the story doesn't end well for the woodcutter because the lesson here is -- 'if you love somebody, set them free.'

Abigail Harm (Plummer) is a lonely woman living in New York City, making money here and there for reading books for the blinds. One night, she finds a wounded stranger (Will Patton) in her apartment. This slightly incoherent, ethereal man directs her to a grand empty building where she finds a naked Asian man (Kuramochi Tetsuo) taking a bath in a large metal tin bathtub. She nabs his robe and runs out. A few days after, she goes back and finds the man wondering around naked. She calls him, like she would a pet and brings him home. So starts a charming little romance, big on creating the melancholic mood of urban loneliness but small on everything else. But it's lovely nonetheless.

Plummer is adorable. Her childish excitement and happiness when she finds her first true love are palpable. It's all her. The almost mute companion is just there to stand around to be adored by our heroine. It's pretty hard to sell a man-child with a thick Japanese accent pass as being otherworldly in this day and age. But director Chung keeps everything light as feather. Serving also as a cinematographer, Chung beautifully captures magic light hours in mostly Brooklyn shot settings. Abigail Harm is a modern fairy tale with affecting performances by many character actors (including, Plummer, Patton and Burt Young of the Godfather films). It is rare to see urban loneliness presented in American films, and it's rarer still to see it done in a micro scale and budget, and done well. It's a charmer.

Abigail Harm opens on Friday, August 30 at Quad Cinema in New York.

Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions can be found at

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