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301/302

Not rated, 100 min. Directed by Chul-Soo Park. Starring Eun-Jin Bang, Sin-Hye Hwang, Chu-Ryun Kim, Chul-Ho Park, Young-Joo Chang.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 11, 1996

One cooks, the other doesn't. 301 and 302 are the numbers of neighboring apartments in this South Korean mystery/comedy. The woman in 301 (Bang) is the one who likes to cook (and eat) and is an excellent amateur chef who devotes herself to preparing lavish meals. 302 (Hwang) is a reclusive writer whose severe anorexia and bulimia causes her to become ill at the mere sight or smell of food. As these two unlikely soulmates begin sharing the details of their personal histories, we begin to see how psychological transferences between food, love, sex, and violence are all part of larger feminist issues. The “facts” of 301 and 302's personal histories are told in flashbacks as the structure of the movie is a detective mystery in which a policeman tries to uncover the explanation for 302's sudden disappearance. Yet the detective story is merely the narrative mechanism that gets this dark comedy going. This being a movie whose recurring locations include 301's kitchen and the butcher shop of 302's childhood, it also follows that 301/302 is a movie that features a lot of butcher knives and meat cleavers, thus giving rise to the movie's horror elements. Yet, neither the mystery nor the horror angles are fully pursued; they're treated as aspects rather than the modi operandi of the story. And though we may find ourselves somewhat frustrated with the way 301/302 dry-humps our generic expectations, this story about how two women's different yet pathologic relationships with food can serve as the key that unlocks their deepest secrets and scars is a true original. (And even though the movie may be found wanting by standards of American genre conventions, 301/302 has been awarded South Korea's national prize for best film of 1995.) 301/302 is also visually arresting to look at, creating a hyper-real canvas of vivid images and fully exposed ciphers. Using crisp cinematography and extreme close-ups, saturated colors, compelling set decoration, the overall production design is, in large measure, responsible for creating the movie's lingering sense of disturbance and disquiet. And for those who have found themselves lured by the current marketing hype for Big Night (a wonderful little movie with so many intrinsic selling points that you almost rue its lowest-common-denominator bid for the Italian-food lover in us all) as the “food movie of the year,” they should treat themselves to 301/302 – the “real” food movie of the year. However, you probably won't feel like going out to eat afterwards.
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