301/302, the winner of Korea's Best Film award in 1995, is a fascinating and curious tale in which two people's opposing personality disorders combine to form a bizarrely symbiotic relationship. While the film occasionally rambles and its oddness is often confounding, it does a wonderful
job of setting moods, creating tension, and bringing the viewer into two unique worlds.
Song-Hee (Eun-Jin Bang) is a recent divorcee who moves into room 301 in a Seoul high-rise. She is a gourmet cook and delights in the preparation of food. She soon discovers that the woman across the hall in 302, Yoon-Hee (Sin-Hye Hwang), is a writer who can not eat any solid food without becoming
Song-Hee sees Yoon-Hee's inability to eat as a challenge, and continually brings her food, which Yoon-Hee promptly throws away. Frustrated, Song-Hee attempts to force-feed Yoon-Hee. When that doesn't work, she sets about preparing "tender food."
It is soon revealed that during Yoon-Hee's childhood, she was sexually molested by her stepfather, who also owned a meat market. Through the years, she began to equate eating with sex, and the thought of either activity made her ill.
For her part, Song-Hee's problems date back to her marriage which, at first, was full of excitement. She and her husband had a great sex life, and he loved her elaborate dinners. With time, he began to resent her, cheated on her, and complained that she spent too much energy on cooking. She began
to eat heavily, gaining a lot of weight. When the husband mistreated her one too many times, she cooked his annoying pet dog and fed it to him, hastening a divorce.
Both women's pasts explain their obsessive nature: while Song-Hee is able to lose weight, she is not able to stop her obsessive cooking; while Yoon-Hee channels her pain into writing, she is not able to eat or be with a man--she wishes she could just "disintegrate." Finally, realizing that
Yoon-Hee will never eat, Soon-Hee takes her out of her misery, killing her and then cooking her. As Soon-Hee eats, she imagines that Yoon-Hee eats with her.
It's heartening that such a bizarre film received critical and commercial success in Korea. It's unlikely that a similar American film could garner any more than cult status. 301/302 is a very high-quality production, and its outrageous conclusion is a tremendous surprise. The story is told in
flashback so it is clear from the beginning that Yoon-Hee is missing, but, even so, the story is laced with mystery and surprise. It is also often absurdly comic, as when Soon-Hee grotesquely chews on a piece of sausage as Yoon-Hee runs from the room to throw up. Somehow director Chul-Soo Park
manages to combine silliness with tragedy (such as the flashbacks to Yoon-Hee's childhood) and still keep the film's style and theme consistent. Though important to the plot, the flashback-within-flashback scenes (detailing Soon-Hee's marriage and Yoon-Hee's childhood) are not as fast-paced or as
creative as the scenes in the apartments.
Stark, striking primary colors are used throughout in the decor of the apartments, in the food, and on the characters' clothes. This attractive simplicity contrasts with the unpleasantly graphic eating scenes and the painful molestation scenes. The acting is brilliant, though the makeup used to
show Soon-Hee's many weight changes is unrealistic and distracting. The story shows how food can have a strong effect on every aspect of people's lives, but this is not a moralistic film; it uses its fascinating theme as a character study and a vehicle for unusual behavior. The ending is extreme
and may turn some viewers off, but it's a commendable risk, ensuring that few viewers will be able to forget 301/302. (Violence, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)
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