Still image from 301/302: Courtesy of the Korean Film Archive
Introducing to you the first film in our programme, Trapped! Cinema of Confinement, 301/302 (1995). 301/302 is an intense and shocking character study which follows the lives of two women that are neighbours and have diametrically opposed outlooks on modern life. Despite their differing ideologies, over the films course these two women manage to bond over their shared traumatic pasts and their equally complex relationships with food and eating. It is a disturbing and probing look into the lives of two troubled women, who are weighed down by the trauma of their pasts which was inflicted upon them by the men in their lives.
We chose this film as the opener for our programme because of the way it employs the themes of food and trauma in order to interrogate how women are positioned socially in Korean society and the toxic pressure that patriarchal control places upon the female body. Importantly in 301/302, the trapped body becomes not a question of physical imprisonment but rather of social and psychological confinement. These two women may not be physically trapped within their apartments but they have become prisoners in their own bodies, weighed down by the societal expectations the female body carries, seeing no other way out of this interior prison than to let themselves be consumed by it.
In relation to this, both of the women in 301/302 also have a traumatic relationship with food, adopting excessive control over what they eat as a way of self-policing and imprisoning their bodies. One woman, Yoon-hee, is an anorexic recluse, she does not want to exist in the world so she refuses to eat in the hopes that one day her body will become so thin she will disappear completely. The other woman, Song-hee, has recently left an unhappy marriage where she was neglected and made to feel invisible. She combats this feeling of invisibility by making widely elaborate meals and excessively eating in order to take up as much space as is physically possible, in the hopes that her husband will finally notice her. It is a film that at its heart is concerned with this human need to consume and a need to also be consumed, represented by these two women’s widely opposing eating habits. If these themes surrounding the presentation of the female body in South Korean cinema are of interest I would also recommend a more recent example Mirror in Mind (2015). This two minute animated short directed by Seung Hee Kim, employs a kaleidoscope of abstract imagery in order to illustrate the immense pressure that is placed upon womens bodies. Within the film Kim exposes her own insecurities surrounding her body but then combats this self-doubt with a message of defiance and empowerment for all women. The film is free to watch online and can be found here.
You can watch 301/302 (courtesy of the Korean Film Archive) with a recorded introduction from KFN programmer Maisie Germain in a specially created playlist on the KCCUK Youtube channel.