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A depiction of homelessness that understands how small discoveries can take on outsized importance in the absence of any domestic constants, Park Suk-Young’s Steel Flower observes a young woman whose life on the streets is changed by the steady rhythm of a tap-dance class. Not at all the whimsical or trivializing feel-good story its synopsis might suggest, the film instead proves to be almost oppressively dour. Moments of friction interrupt the monotony, but don’t suffice to give the South Korean production much appeal for Stateside auds.
Jeong Ha-Dam stars as the anonymous young woman whose homelessness is never explained. We only know that she lives out of a single rolling suitcase, scrounging cast-off food from restaurant tables and squatting in whatever filthy abandoned home she can find at the end of the night. Though we can’t see it in her nearly affectless eyes, she does have some impulse toward self-preservation, however inadequate it is: She repeatedly inquires about employment at cafes and shops, but she can find no workaround when her prospective bosses ask for a phone number or address where they can contact her. In one peculiar, half-comic scene, she butchers the traditional “irasshaimase!” that greets patrons of a Japanese restaurant so badly one wonders if she’s deranged.
Strangers often turn on this clearly helpless woman, sometimes in ways one struggles to believe. She gets in several physical scuffles, and eventually becomes the target of a bullying alcoholic in an ugly scene that isn’t nearly as convincing as the surrounding, dialogue-free scenes that observe her on her own.
As for the tap-dance class that captures her attention, Park treats it less as a moment of grace than a cognitive anomaly — a discovery the girl puzzles over, attempting to replicate steps on desolate streets, lending her harried wanderings some kind of kinetic intention. It’s not joy — far from it — but it’s just enough spark to keep her going until the world stops trying to beat her up.
Production company: MoviEngine
Cast: Jeong Ha-Dam
Director-Screenwriter: Park Suk-Young
Producers: Bak Seong-Jin
Directors of photography: Park Hyeong-Ik, Oh Tae-Seung
Editor: Cho Hyun-Ju
Composer: Kim Dong-Ki
Venue: Marrakech International Film Festival (In Competition)
In Korean, 83 minutes
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