54th Chicago Int’l Film Fest #20: “Clean Up” (South Korea)

“Clean Up” (South Korea)
Directed by Kwon Man-ki

1290919_cleanup_755675This incredibly quiet, but incredibly good feature from South Korea has very little to do with most of the films we associate with that country. Unlike the action/gangster flicks we’ve come to expect, “Clean Up” is a chamber piece about regret, memory and loneliness. It ticks off so many buttons about what it means to be a faceless human in the throng…to look back and see more failure than joy…to judge the course of one’s life and it’s relation to previous touchstones (family, religion, work). And it does so in a story that is original and intriguing.

Man-ki takes his time with the story. REALLY takes his time. And while that might translate to a dull film, I never found it to be so. Each of the two main character’s back stories were intriguing enough for me to stay invested…hoping that the next line of the minimal, but succinct, dialogue would give me more clues to dig my teeth in to. Considering it’s a film that revolves around a house/industrial cleaning service, that’s saying something.

But it’s the performance of Yoon Ji-hye as a woman who lives a mundane and repetitive day-to-day existence until she comes face to face with a past that causes her to look in the mirror with disgust and regret…and a new sense of longing…that makes it all work so well. It’s a remarkable performance…controlled, heartbreaking and frustrating, yet never pushing beyond meek – and on the precipice of some deep canyon of sadness. Kim Dae-gun, as that face, is real, always seeming to be deeply in the moment, even at the film’s most heightened emotional bits. It’s a tall task for such a young actor…one he accomplishes with ease.

With a film this small, it would be easy for it to verge in to the slice-of-life lane, a lane the director manages to consistently veer out of. Part of that success comes from the look of the film. There is a washed-out – almost drab – color palette that matches our protagonists life, which aids in keeping it from being to true-to-life.It helps to remind us this is a story…an extremely human one…but a story nonetheless. And the music from Kyung-Cheon Ko is equally simple, and effective.

No idea when or if this will be released or streaming anytime. But if you want to witness a universal story told through the lens of a very different culture, you could do MUCH worse than the terrific “Clean Up”.

(no trailer)

Written on 11/12/2018

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