The International Women's Film Festival in Seoul began its full program today and will continue until next Friday. I would encourage people to check out a film or two for a number of reasons. First, the chance to see films by female directors, which is unfortunately rare. Second, the chance to see Korean films in the theatre with English subtitles, also rare. And, finally, many of the screenings include a question period with the filmmaker (with English interpreter included).
All three of these applied to the screening I attended on Friday night, Jeong Jae-eun's Take Care of My Cat. The film details the lives of five friends from Incheon who have just graduated from high school, focusing specifically on three of the group: Hye-Ju, who is working for a company in Seoul; Tae-Hie, who volunteers as a typist for a poet with cerebral palsy; and Ji-Young, who lives in a collapsing apartment with her grandparents. Most films I have encountered in the West that deal with female friendship tend to revolve around their relationships with men and how this breaks apart their bond. In this film, however, the tension between the friends is caused much more by class differences. This grounding of the film in the social rather than personal is extended to the importance of Incheon as a location. Part of Hye-Ju's separation from her friends is expressed through her job in Seoul, with her friends remaining at the margins of the city. However, Incheon is also the location of the international airport in South Korea, and thus plays a crucial role in the film's climax.
The style of the film is fairly classical. Jeong avoids the heavy cutting of contemporary cinema, but there are few examples of long takes in the style of other Asian minimalist directors. Interestingly, the film has been discussed as "experimental" within Korean film circles. The only real experimental element of the film is it subject matter and the rather quotidian nature of the narrative. The film reminded me much more of films from the American independent cinema movement than of Korean art cinema directors like Hong Sang-soo and Lee Chang-Dong. And the conclusion reminded me particularly of Spike Lee's Clockers (1995) with its mixture of optimism and critique. The escape at the end of both films offers hope, but is also critical of a society that offers its characters no other options.