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(Movie Review) Two rooms, two desires invoke catastrophe in 'The Room Nearby'

All Headlines 09:00 February 28, 2009

(ATTN: photos available)
By Shin Hae-in

SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- A woman inhabits a shabby, overcrowded lodging house, while another is the lone occupant of a luxurious and expansive abode. One would expect a happy ending for these two women as their lives intersect, each one fulfilling the other's deepest desires.

"The Room Nearby," thankfully, avoids such a cloy ending.

Female director Goh Tae-jeong's feature debut highlights the vast array of subject matter that remains unexplored by South Korean cinema. The Pusan International Film Festival, where the film initially premiered last year, described "The Room" as an "intriguing unwomanly female movie."

Brimming with suspense and drama, the film eludes easy categorization in a specific genre. Delving into territory her fellow directors have shied away from, Goh captures audiences' attention throughout the film's 106 minutes.

"I was engrossed by the image of a woman lying in an empty room with all the doors wide open," Goh said at the film's preview Friday. "The story came from that image -- what happened and why the woman is there."

Eon-ju, played by Jeong Yu-mi, lives in a cramped, single-room occupancy known as a "gosiwon," common throughout Seoul and distinguished by their cheap rates and often dilapidated exteriors. Working as a private tutor on weekdays and as manager of the lodging house on weekends, the hard-bitten woman has one overriding goal: a warm, cozy place of her own.

One cold winter day, Eon-ju stumbles across a luxurious house with all of its doors wide open. Intrigued, she enters and slowly begins to make herself at home, returning several times until she finally encounters the owner, Seok-hee (Ye Su-jeong), an ailing widow terrified of dying alone.

Desperate for the security and warmth the house offers, Eon-ju is invited to visit whenever she likes, providing the attention and companionship Seok-hee deeply craves. For a fleeting moment the two develop a mother-daughter like relationship poignantly brought out when Eon-ju visits the house on Seok-hee's birthday with a small cake in her hand.

But their relationship only goes so far, and the wounds they seek to heal are put out of reach by the distance that separates their completely different worlds.

"The film does have a catastrophic ending, but I did not want to draw any conclusions on whether there is still hope or not," the director said. "I wanted to question whether people are able to really communicate with each other and whether it is possible for one person to become a source of comfort to another."

The film's feminine portrayal of its characters' emotional world is complemented by its bold and daring narrative.

Made on a budget of just 80 million won (US$52,800), the movie is a product of the Korea Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) annual film project.

"The Room Nearby" will be screened at CJ CGV Apgujeongdong in southern Seoul from March 12 along with three other KAFA project films.


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