Busan Film Review: ‘Clean Up’

The impressive graduation project of Korean Academy of Film Arts student Kwon Man-ki, slow-burn psychological drama “Clean Up” potently examines feelings of grief, guilt, and redemption. In the film, the female perpetrator and male victim of a child kidnapping come face to face 12 years after the incident, yielding a penetrating study of human reaction to traumatic events. Well produced on a modest budget and boasting fine central performances by Yoon Ji-hye (“Kundo, Age of the Rampant”) and newcomer Kim Dae-gun, the film deserves the attention of festival programmers and ought to make a mark in local art houses following its world premiere in the New Currents competition at Busan.

The most important task in this tale about the repercussions of a terrible crime is to humanize the perpetrator without showing undue sympathy or approval of the act. Kwon achieves this in opening sections charting the inert existence of Jung-ju (Yoon Ji-hye), an emotionally blank woman in her late 30s. A cleaning company employee living alone in a messy apartment, Jung-ju begins the day with a cigarette, drinks heavily, prays for repentance, and is told by her doctor to consider hormone therapy to arrest the onset of premature menopause. Before specific details of her long-ago crime are revealed, audiences discover that five years have elapsed since Jung-ju lost her young son, Ju-hwan, to a fatal heart condition.

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