By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Korea has long had a studio-driven film industry that rivals just about any in the world. Korean indie cinema, on the other hand, has not had quite the same recognizance on the world stage.
Give or take the same movie Hong Sang-soo makes every year.
Gwanghwamun Cinema is a filmmaking collective that is doing its best to establish a Korean indie scene that makes a mark, and Microhabitat, now playing in competition at the New York Asian Film Festival, is from the first female director among their ranks. It follows a free spirit who decides after a rent raise that it makes more sense to drop rent from her budget altogether than the daily whiskey and cigarettes that would otherwise need to be cut. She starts couch-surfing her old bandmates from her college days, seeing what affect the years have had on her old friends.
Jeon Go-woon, who writes and directs, delivers a film with an exceptional structure and script, driven almost entirely by the natural, incisive, and emotionally true conversations she writes. What at first seems episodic soon reveals the genius of the structure, as Jeon shines a light on the different roles and expectations of womanhood in modern Korea as she goes from friend to friend.
- The career woman too busy for anything but her job.
- The put upon housewife and daughter in law who feels trapped in the traditional role her husband’s family has put her in.
- The woman who left in the form of a male friend stuck in an expensive, 20-year lease apartment that only reminds him of the wife who left him.
- The prospective daughter in law for the son who should be married by now whose parents are becoming truly desperate.
- The rich man’s wife and mother who can’t even smoke a cigarette or talk about her wild college years with her husband.
Jeon’s talents don’t lay only in screenwriting and direction of her actors (all of whom rise to the level of the material perfectly, with Esom in particular delivering a beguiling and empathetic central performance). Microhabitat is very well shot, edited, and overall polished, boasting some nifty shots from DP Kim Tae-soo and one mini-freakout scene that is much more stylized than the rest of the film and delivers the biggest laughs (did I mention this film is often funny?)
Microhabitat and director Jeon Go-woon deliver a perspective uncommon to Korean cinema, and a harbinger of an independent cinema movement on the rise.
Microhabitat (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever anyone smokes
Take a Drink: whenever anyone drinks whiskey
Take a Drink: whenever a cash register is opened
Take a Drink: for every visit with her boyfriend
Take a Drink: whenever we see eggs- the perfect housegift if you only have 4,000 won to spend
Do a Shot: for each band member visited