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The Sense of Space for Urban People (KIM Joon, 2007)

Reviewed by Darcy PAQUET

The intimacy of the city

The title of this 7-minute animated short is helpfully self-explanatory. With monochrome drawings on paper, director Kim Joon sets out to re-create the feeling of living within a densely populated city. More specifically, she is exploring the sense of space experienced by residents of high-rise apartments, where scores or even hundreds of people live a good portion of their lives in close proximity, within stacked, symmetrical rooms. Kim’s drawings are ambitious, despite their simple lines, and she is surprisingly successful at realizing such an abstract goal.

The work is a mixture of dreams and reality. We open with the image of a woman in an apartment elevator; the realistic sound effects grounding us in the impressions of everyday life. We next see her lying in bed, and after a moment she reaches for a book. Then, as a peculiar mixture of sound effects and music fill the soundtrack, our perspective shifts. As if seen from a floating camera, we move through windows, outside into the air, where the rectangular patterns of the apartment complex are visible, and then in again through the walls and doorways of other homes. We see one or two people standing at their windows, but mostly people are asleep, blankets pulled up to their chests. We move through living rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms, in a smooth, repetitive and somewhat soothing motion.

The squeak of an opening door brings us back to reality, and once again we see the woman in bed with her book. The interlude is brief, however, and the image falls away from us, to be replaced by other sleeping figures behind a seemingly endless row of windows. In one moment, the background is stripped away, so it looks as if the sleeping figures are floating upright in the air. Sure enough, as the background returns we see them float out through the window, and they tumble slowly through the air in the space between apartment blocks. It’s a beautiful image.

Pop culture representations of urban life, particularly in the West, seem to imply that when large groups of people live crowded together in identical homes, they become dehumanized. But director Kim’s figures sleeping in adjacent rooms, and rotating through the air together aren’t diminished by their surroundings. Quite literally, they are unrestrained and free. The close proximity of so many people leading different lives and dreaming different dreams, if anything, seems to humanize the space of the apartment.

Finally, it is morning, and we have returned to our protagonist’s apartment. She gets up, then we see her get into the elevator, dressed to go outside. As she wraps a scarf around her neck, one man in the crowded elevator looks up at something. One by one, the other people in the elevator also look up, and the film’s final image is of this group of people, pushed together in an enclosed space, looking up in unison at something we don’t see. It’s an enigmatic ending, vague and suggestive, but we are left with a hint of optimism.

Darcy PAQUET is the founder of the website and the author of New Korean Cinema: Breaking the Waves (2009, Wallflower Press). A former correspondent for Variety and a contributor to the film magazine Cine21, he currently works as a consultant for the Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy and the San Sebastian International Film Festival in Spain. He also recently appeared as a supporting actor in Im Sang-soo's The Taste of Money (2012). A native of Massachusetts, Darcy has been living in Seoul since 1997.

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