Judge Joel Pearce is fine with metaphorically mixing sex and food, but mixing sex, food, and contemporary feminist philosophy? That's a bit much.
Two apartments. Two women. One shocking mystery.
A fascinating study of neurotic behavior, 301, 302 is a disturbing film that will appeal more to feminist scholars than anyone else. That said, adventurous moviegoers may find a lot to like in this exploration of food, sex, and obsession.
Facts of the Case
The woman living in apartment 302 of a complex in Korea disappears, and police come to question her neighbor from across the hall. It turns out that the two women were closely connected. 301 (Eun-jin Bang) is a chef, obsessed with food and cooking. 302 (Sin-Hye Hwang) is anorexic, unable to eat any food at all. Their histories are uncovered through a series of flashbacks, which reveal the fate of the woman in 302.
I suppose creating a connection between food and sex makes quite a bit of sense. Both are, at their core, necessary for human survival. However, both have become a source of industry, pleasure and obsession for people, so much so that we often don't even associate these activities with our survival. 301, 302 blurs the lines between the appetite and sexuality, which pushes this metaphor to uncomfortable extremes.
Both characters are fascinating. 301 has become obsessed with cooking, using it as a way to gain constant approval from her husband. At some point, this led to a divorce, as well as some lifestyle changes and the loss of a lot of weight. For her, cooking is an almost sensual experience, and to have her food rejected is just as bad as having her body and sexuality rejected. Now that she is across the hall from 302, she has a new project: to force the anorexic woman to eat her food and put on a few pounds. The food she makes is varied and delicious looking, and anyone who has a love of cooking will at least appreciate her continued quest for new ingredients and flavors.
I don't want to reveal too much here about 302's past. There is abuse, both physical and sexual, to the point where her body will no longer accept intrusions of any kind. The insertion of food is as unappealing as sexual penetration, and no amount of sensitivity (or violence) on the part of 301 is likely to change that. Although we never get to learn as much about 302, her story is more powerful and disturbing.
Even from what I've already said, I'm sure that the result of the mystery won't be too much a surprise. The real mystery in this case isn't so much what happened, as exploring what could have possibly caused these women to make the choices that they have made. We watch as they hurtle towards this end, and the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is almost impossible to take the central mystery at face value. While the events leading up to each woman's current situation make sense, the results beg to be taken symbolically, not literally. I think this blatant abstraction is the weakest part of the film, and is so extreme that it weakens the power of the earlier scenes. As I said at the beginning of the review, this may not be a problem for people who are willing to watch the film as an exploration of feminist theory, but when the first half of a film is so realistic and believable, it makes that kind of twist difficult to swallow (no pun intended).
The DVD is quite unimpressive. It is presented in full screen. I was not able to find out whether this is the original aspect ratio, but there are no widescreen releases (that I could find) anywhere in the world, and I don't see any evidence of panning or extra information on the top and bottom of the frame. The colors seem accurate, and at times you can almost smell and taste the food that 301 makes. There is also quite a bit of grain and a few print flaws, but nothing beyond what can be expected for such a small budget film from a decade ago. The sound is more problematic. Although the voices are generally clear, there are some odd shifts in sound sometimes, as thought there were problems with the source. The stereo track is actually the preferred choice in this case. The surround track simply echoes the front sound stage in the rear, which makes everything sound artificial and boomy. There are no extras on the disc, which would have been a great idea on such a personal and theoretical film.
301, 302 isn't likely to find favor in very many circles, but it does deserve some respect for its unflinching look at the difficult lives of two women trapped by issues of food and sex. It's a highly personal, unpleasant film to watch, but it has important things to say about relationships and loneliness. I have read reviews that have said to watch 301, 302 on a full stomach, and others that say to watch it hungry. I think the answer to this question depends on who you are, and whether you would rather feel uncomfortably hungry during the first half of the film, or unpleasantly full during the second half. Just as in the lives of these two women, there isn't a perfect choice to be made; just one that will cause you as little pain and suffering as possible.
Although I need to hold the film and DVD for further questioning, the two women are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
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