Park Hee-kwon’s drama/thriller Dust and Ashes bears striking thematic similarities to Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning 2019 film Parasite. Both movies concern themselves with classism and destitution in South Korea. Both show the extents to which the impoverished will go to improve their lives. This film however has none of the other’s fun and humour.
Hae-su (Ahn So-yo) works two extremely difficult jobs before returning to her meager apartment. We learn that she recently experienced a tragic loss, though the circumstances surrounding that loss are not immediately clear. We follow Hae-su over the course of three days. Each day serving as a single act in the three-act structure. The film follows her as she meets shady characters like life insurance investigators, and funeral directors. The film is bleak, very sad at times, and rather intriguing.
There is very little dialogue in Dust and Ashes, in fact no words are spoken for the first 15 minutes of the film. Once it introduces dialogue, the characters speak in limited and understated ways. This certainly left me somewhat confused as to the plot for nearly the first half of the movie. But we do learn what is going on eventually.
What is so interesting about this movie is what it doesn’t show. In fact we rarely see Hae-su’s face, as the film often frames her with her back to the camera. When her face is on screen, a shadow, a mask, or her hanging hair frequently covers it. This gives the character an everywoman quality that suggests that there are people in similar situations everywhere.
Dust and Ashes can be a little dry at times, mostly due to the lack of dialogue, but I was intrigued throughout, always curious as to where it was going to go.