Ash Flower (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tale of two girls

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South Korean film “Ash Flower”, which is the last chapter of the Flower trilogy by director/co-writer Park Seok-yeong, is a simple but intimate character drama to admire for its sensitive and thoughtful storytelling. While it is mainly about two young girls who get close to each other after their accidental encounter, the movie also pays considerable attention to other few characters surrounding them, and there are several touching moments as the movie calmly observes all of them with care and empathy.

In “Steel Flower” (2015), which is the second chapter of the Flower trilogy after “Wild Flowers” (2014), Ha-dam (Jeong Ha-dam) struggled to earn her living alone in her harsh world, but her situation becomes a lot better when we meet her at the beginning of “Ash Flower”. Now she lives in some country village while working at a blueberry farm, and she also has a cozy, safe place to live. She has lived in a house belonging to a middle-aged woman named Sam-soon (Jeong Eun-kyeong), and she has been like an unofficial family member to Sam-soon, as reflected well by when Sam-soon refuses to take the extra payment from her lodger.

We also meet other characters in the film. Sam-soon’s son Cheol-gi (Kim Tae-hee) has saved a considerable amount of money along with his co-worker/friend Myeong-ho (Park Myung-hoon), and Cheol-gi wants the half of their saving now because he wants to use it for himself and his girlfriend Jin-gyeong (Park Hyun-young), a real estate agent who is eager to begin a new life through that money.

And there is Hae-byeol (Jang Hae-geum), an 11-year-old girl who comes to the village alone with her big suitcase for meeting Myeong-ho. After coming across Hae-byeol, Ha-dam takes this little girl to Myeong-ho’s house where he lives alone, and Myeong-ho gets a surprise news from Hae-byeol. According to her, he is her biological father, and she comes to him because there is no one to take care of her after her mother’s death.

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Totally dumbfounded by this news, Myeong-ho tries to adjust himself to a new role he has never imagined before. While requesting a DNA test just in case, he decides to provide a more comfortable environment for Hae-byeol, and we get several humorous moments from his rather clumsy attempt. He does some digging in front of his house for making a flowerbed she wishes for. He buys a tent where she can sleep more comfortably. And he also comes to consider using all of the money saved by him and Cheol-gi for buying a new place for him and Hae-byeol.

Meanwhile, Hae-byeol temporarily stays at Sam-soon’s house, and Hae-byeol and Ha-dam come to spend lots of time together around the village. At the blueberry farm, Ha-dam shows Hae-byeol how to pick blueberries, and she also takes Hae-byeol to a nearby river for their private picnic. Seeing a lot of herself from Hae-byeol, Ha-dam wants Hae-byeol to have a happy life, and that eventually prompts Ha-dam to commit a dishonest thing at one point.

This action of hers seems harmless at first, but, not so surprisingly, it inadvertently leads to a very serious circumstance, and that is where the movie becomes a little more intense than before. Not only Ha-dam but also some other characters in the film have to face the consequence of their actions in the end, and the movie firmly holds our attention as arriving at its expected climax moment.

It surely helps that the movie is supported well by its small group of performers. Jeong Ha-dam, who previously impressed me and other audiences a lot through her unforgettable performance in “Steel Flower”, did another terrific job here in this film, which is a warmer and gentler extension of what she demonstrated in “Steel Flower”. While she looks more outgoing and peaceful than before, Ha-dam is usually as reticent as before, and Jeong ably conveys her character’s thoughts and feelings to us via subtle touches of her nuanced performance.

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In case of young performer Jang Ha-geum, she is plucky and likable in her unadorned performance, and she holds her own place well besides her co-performer. During a wonderful nocturnal scene involved with a certain object from “Steel Flower”, Jeong and Jang effortlessly show the growing relationship between their characters, and I could not help but touched by the sound made from that object, mainly because I still remember well how poignant it felt in “Steel Flower”.

The other cast members of the film are also solid in their respective roles. Jeong Eun-kyeong quietly radiates kindness and generosity, and the cordial relationship between her character and Ha-dam feels palpable even though the movie does not explain much about their relationship. While Park Myung-hoon and Kim Tae-hee are as simple-minded as required, Park Hyun-young brings some human complexity to her role, and she has a good scene when her character becomes conflicted about her unethical action later in the story.

Because I have not yet watched “Wild Flowers”, I cannot say whether “Ash Flower” is the best one in the trilogy or not, but I can tell you instead that it is another engaging work from Park Seok-yeong and Jeong Ha-dam. They give us one vividly human character to remember, and the movie is certainly a satisfying finishing touch to their trilogy on the whole.

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