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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Ash Flower"

2017/07/22 | Permalink

Ha-dam (played by Jeong Ha-dam) is a normal teenage girl who lives in an obscure township somewhere in Chungcheong. While a generally happy young woman, Ha-dam does frequently run into the problem of not having very much to do in her spare time, considering the only people she knows are the adults in her immediate family. That changes when the much younger Hae-byeol (played by Jang Hae-geum) comes into Ha-dam's life, claiming to be an obscure relative.

"Ash Flower" is another one of those dual movies, one that's really two stories mixed into one. In this case, the main story is of Ha-dam and Hae-byeol's budding friendship, as Ha-dam's idyllic existence running through the fields and enjoying the country stream is massively improved by having a little sister like person to share it with. These scenes are adorably sweet and optimistic, a testament to the powerful chemistry shared by the lead actresses.

Then there's the story with the adult characters, which makes up the bulk of the actual plot. This does not go quite so as well, although it's noteworthy how Hae-byeol herself does not actually create any conflict directly. The first introductory dinner scene where most of the cast first meets Hae-byeol is surprisingly understated. Hae-byeol's presence at dinner is only questioned as an afterthought, and everyone quickly loses interest in the topic, pending further proof of Hae-byeol's claims.

Ah, the proof. That's where the troubles lie, and that's where some of the more disreputable adult characters cook up an elaborate scam to betray the others. Why? Because of money. Which in context kind of comes off like the punchline to a joke. These people have everything they could possibly want- a home, family, peace of mind. This is the whole reason why Hae-byeol's arrival isn't that big a deal. She's a harmless alteration to a fairly mundane daily routine.

Mind, it's a plot twist that makes perfect thematic sense when "Ash Flower" is compared to "Wild Flowers" and "Steel Flower", two other films from writer/director Park Suk-young that deal with the same theme- teenagers in crisis. Why? Again, in those movies as in this one, the main reason everything falls apart is because of money. Even if proper equilibirum can be found money, and vindictive personal crises created by the need for it, can easily shatter that equilibrium.

It's messed up, really, how such enormously petty actions can be traced down to such obviously simple causes. Likewise, the rationalizations we get by the end are mostly just pathetic in how irrelevant they are, and how their hurtfulness is so completely disproportionate to their relevance. At first the ending seems optimistic, since we see Ha-dam and Hae-byeol fleeing that situation, having concluded that the messed up world of adults is something they want no part in. Alas, that feeling becomes a tad bittersweet when we recall that wherever they go, Ha-dam and Hae-byeol will have to find other adults to deal with. Or worse, that they must eventually become adults themselves.

Review by William Schwartz

"Ash Flower" is directed by Park Suk-youn and features Jeong Ha-dam, Jang Hae-geum, Jeong Eun-kyeong-I, Park Myung-hoon, Park Hyun-young and Kim Tae-hee-III.

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