This film features a suspense laden-melodramatic narrative, an industrial noise-heavy soundtrack, and two women increasingly dealing with dueling paranoias crammed into incredibly tight spaces. From that description alone one could assume that I was describing a Dario Argento movie and their assumptions would easily be justified. However, the movie I am describing is actually a Korean movie from right in the middle of their illustrious and still evolving New Wave. The film 301, 302 is brilliant, experimental and highly-invocative film that is about women's place and identity within Korea as it moves into modernity. Heavy with a social critique, at no point does 301, 302 overdo its imagery and become on the nose. A study in the issue of psychologically based eating disorders in their emergence, existence and eventual ending and it also questions the relationship of food and consumption relate to the body image, particularly, when that images is predicated on male dominance and judgement. The acting within 301, 302 is stunning, the cinematography is intensely realized and the overall grittiness of this film causes viewers to become aghast at what would normally be simple images of food. Cheol-su-Park's work intends to undermine the comfort in food and eating, as well as causing aversion to the traditional gaze in cinema, all of which he manages to do and still provide a entirely watchable, if not intense movie.
301, 302 begins, in sorts, at the end of the narrative, we are shown 301 (Eun-jin Pang), referred to by her apartment, engaging with a detective who is inquiring about the disappearance of her neighbor 302 (Sin-Hye Hwang). 301 explains that she was a pseudo-friend of 302, in that she, a cook, often attempted to deliver food to the writer who lived a very secluded and reserved life behind her closed apartment door. The detective assumes that 301 offers little to his investigation and leaves, at this point the narrative unfolds, through what we assume to be flashbacks. We are shown 301in earlier years, overweight attempting to cook a meal for her husband who is dismissive based on her expanding weight and constantly heckling about liking her food. Eventually, 301's husband leaves her and she takes up attempting to win 302 over with her cooking. She is enraged when she discovers that 302, who has a huge aversion to food, is always throwing her food away. After confronting 302 about her refusal to eat by forcing her to eat the rotten leftovers, 302 confesses to being sexually abused at a young age while working in a her stepdad's butchers shop, ever since she has found herself disgusted by both food and the act of intercourse. Feeling terrible about her actions, 301 begins to attempt making food for 302 that will be suitable to her diet, focusing on organic ingredients and often vegetarian dishes. As each persons past opens up it is revealed that they both engaged in some terrible actions, 301 cooking her cheating husband's dog alive and 302 leaving a girl in a freezer to die. Eventually their pasts become nearly irreconcilable and the two must come to grips with their consumption disorders in a disturbingly poetic finally, one that has to be seen to be believed.
The film can be critiqued from many venues, particularly in regards to feminist theory. In terms of a revenge narrative, the possibilities are evident, although it does not necessarily reflect this tradition in that it fails to exact bodily revenge as is the case with works like Deathproof or I Spit On Your Grave. Similarly one could analyze the notion of voice and empowerment within women's movements, it is no surprise that 302 is a writer, as she sees it as a means to deal with her traumatic past and give voice to others who may have experience similar situations, however, this is also not completely plausible as we are led to believe that she never finishes an entire piece, let alone one one that companies agree to publish. Ultimately, the film is to be read as a commentary on the power of food in female identity. For 301 her ability to cook and enjoyment in eating are seen as a means of power, although her consumption becomes problematic when it is used as a means to replace her lack of sexual activity, it, nonetheless, suggests the possibilities of food serving as a means of identity. Similarly, 302's refusal to eat has its own identity attached to it, although again it is unhealthy in its sexual attachments. However, this unacknowledged hunger strike certainly has political implications that can be drawn from many a moment in history. The food in this film, however, is to constantly be questioned, even in the closing moments of this dark film, we are not quite sure as to whether the food serves as a thing of disturbing unison or blatant and literal division.
Key Scene: Pretty much any of the cooking scenes are magnificent.
I am enthralled with this movie and am glad to have purchased a copy, however, I am also aware that it may not be for everyone, so I highly suggest renting the film before making a purchasing decision.