301, 302 (1995)
Two obsessive compulsive neighbours collide over their opposing food manias in this gripping Freudian psychological thriller
Phobia, compulsion and the baggage of our pasts that creates these monsters are superbly unpacked in Park Chul-soo's most accomplished outing in a highly active directing career.
Using the claustrophobia of the apartment setting and its narrow peephole-sized view of the outside world, Park takes Freudian themes and combines them with neurotic manias to great effect.
Themes of domestic abuse and the differing role that food plays in the lives of our two central characters sees these two opposing personalities sharing scars over the toxic men of their pasts.
In apartment 301 is Song-hee (Bang Eun-jin), a brash home cook producing restaurant-quality dishes in her expansive, custom-build kitchen. Living opposite in 302 is Yoon-hee (Hwang Shin-hye), a shy anorexic writer tapping away in her sprawling home library.
While Yoon-hee is looking for a life of solitude and quiet to producing her book, the more forceful Song-hee tries to court her attention by bringing round her latest dishes.
Song-hee seems jealous of Yoon-hee's slight frame, unaware of her anorexia, and plots to fatten her up with a door-delivered buffet of sumptuous dishes.
However, these high calorie offerings are hardly what Yoon-hee is looking for and when she is caught disposing of the food, Song-hee flies into a rage at the insult, bringing the pair to a face-off within their flats.
Despite the chalk and cheese nature of these two characters, they open up to each other and discover that their cruel pasts have both shaped a food-obsessed current.
Like much of Korean cinema, this film is hard to define by any traditional genre category. Part domestic drama, plenty of elements of psychological thriller, a smattering of horror, and dark comedy through-out.
This genre-scrambled approach makes for engaging viewing, as you flick between chuckles and repulsion. There is plenty of shock and surprise too as the pair unveil the dark circumstances of their surprising pasts.
Director Park has carved a career out of the rape-revenge genre and it is feminist issues and the tyranny of abusive men that informs 301, 302 too.
The direction itself is superb, producing a series of stylish shots in the apartments, blended with some shocking imaginary for the film’s darker corners. There is an experimental feel to many of the visual, making it one of the more modern looking Korean films from the 1990s. There is plenty of masterful misdirection too, lining up dramatic turns and twisting them away at the last moment.
It comes together so brilliantly with two great central performances, particularly from Bang Eun-jin who has the more expansive role of the live-wire, hot-headed Song-hee.
The result is a deeply strange and unsettling journey into the minds of two women coming to terms with their past. Writ large are discussions over the treatment of women in Korean society and the role food plays in domestic lives.