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Darcy Paquet reviews the animation short Salvia at Nine by Jang Nari.

A nine year old girl lives in the same neighborhood as a father who watches erotic videos next to his child and an old man who habitually molests his neighborhood’s elementary school kids.The girl goes to a corner shop and tries to steal some snacks but the shop owner catches her on the spot. The girl puts a coin on the counter which she was holding to pay for her candy and quickly leaves the shop - Synopsis

Salvia is a genus of plant found in many different varieties around the world. In Korea, it is a red flower common in the countryside that children often pick and eat because of its sweet flavor (not to be confused with the South American plant Salvia divinorum, which contains hallucinogens within its leaves). Early in the film Salvia at Nine, we see the young protagonist standing in front of a stand of salvia plants. She picks a couple of the bright red flowers and slips them into her pocket. A treat for later, perhaps?

We already sense that this is a girl who spends most of her time alone, and ignored. We have seen the father play erotic videos in the same room where she is trying to sleep. There seems little supervision or protection for children in the rural village in which she lives. Disturbingly, a lecherous old man is chasing a group of boys – something that, in the time period in which this film is set, might not have been seen by the other townspeople as sexual abuse.

It's against this backdrop, and with the scent of salvia in the air, that the young girl commits her first act of theft. In the country store, seduced by rows of candy, she slips a chocolate bar and a box of caramels into the bag containing her school shoes. But she is caught by the stern-looking owner of the store. Humiliated, the girl places a 100 won coin on the counter and leaves with one lollipop. At this moment, the salvia flowers spill out of her pocket.

I want to show a nine year old girl facing her own sin at the first time and discovering of the conflicting feelings between of crime and punishment, life and death, desire and shame, and the chaos that comes from the uncertainty - Jang Na-ri

Watch Salvia at Nine Trailer:

In this film, Director Jang Nari focuses particularly on the emotional state of this young girl. The imagery transitions smoothly from concrete scenes in the real world to abstract forms expressing the girl's inner emotional state. After she is caught stealing, feelings of guilt overwhelm her. She feels exposed and stared at wherever she goes, and it is with the color red that Jang captures this mood so effectively. Red is the color of shame and embarrassment, but the red that covers the girl's face and the rest of her skin is a much darker shade of scarlet: the same color as the salvia flowers. Suddenly, the color red seems to be reflected everywhere, from the red figure indicating "do not walk" in the crosswalk signal to the hue the girl sees when she closes her eyes and looks at the sun. Eventually her shame will fade, and in a neat twist, she will even be able to enjoy the fruits of her crime. 

Often, childhood is remembered not as structured anecdotes, but as brief, recalled impressions and sensory details that linger even after years have passed. In a similar way, what lingers after viewing this film is the sense of shame at being caught and the confused loss of innocence that follows. It's a complex emotion, but the scarlet of the salvia and its sweet, tempting odor seem to capture the essence of it.

Contributed by: Darcy Paquet

Salvia at Nine (2020, South Korea, 6:39) | 2D, Drawing, Colour, Short Animation/Drama
Director: Jang Na-ri | Producer: Jang Na-ri | Scenario: Jang Na-ri | Animation: Jang Na-ri | BG/Layout/Character: Jang Na-ri | Editing: Jang Na-ri | Sound designer: Kim Dong-wook | Voice: Lee Han-na

About Jang Nari:
She was born in 1985. She graduated with a BFA in animation from the Korea National University of Arts (K'Arts) in 2012. In 2016, she graduated from the K'Arts with a MFA.

The article benefited from the help of Korea Independent Animation Filmmakers Association (KIAFA).

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