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DUST KID (JOUNG Yumi, 2009)

Reviewed by Darcy PAQUET

One evening, Eujin wraps herself in a blanket, slides open her window and stares out at the cold, quiet alleyway outside her home. There is no one in the street. Lying back down in bed, she finds a dust kid. A bit surprised, she decides that it is finally time to clean her room.

Director Joung Yumi says that when she feels depressed and anxious, she cleans her room. In the process of sweeping, arranging her things and wiping off dusty surfaces, her anxiety starts to lessen. The character of Eujin sets off in a similar way, cleaning under her bed, on her desktop and in the bathroom. In unused corners and shadowy spaces she finds dust kids, one after another. With each one she removes, another seems to appear.

The detailed, precise black-and-white drawings by director Joung make a strong impression on the viewer, despite the ordinary setting. Taking place entirely within the enclosed space of her room, and with no dialogue, one feels a sense of intimacy. There is no music, only the sounds of shuffling feet, clattering mugs and running water. Dust kids continue to appear at regular intervals, in an oddly soothing tempo. It’s easy to imagine that this is not merely physical space, but a kind of psychological space.

Most striking are the dust kids themselves. They are the spitting image of Eujin, in miniature form. When discovered, they stare at her with a startled, hard to read expression, then shyly stand up and try to hide. Eujin’s expression, staring at the dust kids, is similarly enigmatic. These repeated exchanges are oddly suggestive, not so simple as to be explained with simple allegory. Do these figures represent wayward thoughts, forgotten memories, or suppressed worries? However you read them, Joung’s talent as an artist and creative depiction make the images unforgettable.

Dust Kid ranks as one of Korea’s most acclaimed short animated works, having screened in over 50 film festivals including the Directors Fortnight section at Cannes, and the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival. It has won over a dozen awards. Since graduating from the Korean Academy of Film Arts in 2006, director Joung has made numerous short films, artworks and published three books, establishing for herself a distinctive black-and-white visual style.

Joung ends her film in a particularly intriguing way. Shaken loose from its hiding place, one of the dust kids settles on Eunjin’s bowl of rice. Lying there it begins to eat, taking small, imperceptible mouthfuls. Eunjin stares at this last dust kid for a long time before standing up and getting herself another bowl of rice. The two of them eat together in silence. It seems in part an act of resignation, and in part an expression of peace. Meanwhile, the newly-cleaned room gleams.

Darcy PAQUET is the founder of the website, and the author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves (2009). He is a delegate for the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain and a programme consultant at the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy. He recently launched the Wildflower Film Awards Korea, an annual awards ceremony for Korean independent and low-budget films. He also works occasionally as an actor, most recently in a small role in the SBS drama 3 Days. Darcy has been living in Seoul since 1997.

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