LKFF Opening Gala: “Microhabitat”

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Rating: ★★★★

For the 13th annual London Korean Film Festival, the opening film was Microhabitat by Jeon Go-woon. The film follows Mi-so; a young housekeeper who decides to give up her small, cold apartment due to an increase in rent, so she can enjoy the things she loves most in life: whiskey and cigarettes. It is an incredibly bold and somewhat silly idea that resulted in a thoroughly entertaining film.

For me, experiencing Microhabitat was made even more special by the Q&A that followed, where director Jeon Go-woon answered questions very honestly and insightfully. This was her directorial debut, having previously written and produced. It was very interesting to learn that house prices in Seoul are very similar to London, in that both capital cities are expensive and hard to settle down in for many. Fundamentally, this is where the inspiration for Mircohabitat came from.

When Mi-so finds herself without a home, and her possessions in suitcases, she seeks out her former bandmates for temporary accommodation. It was clear everyone had changed so much since the band days, and Mi-so finds her friends experiencing everyday challenges such as demanding jobs, motherhood and trying to flee the family home. One thing I really enjoyed about the film was how well the comedy worked for a predominantly English-speaking audience. When dealing with cultural differences, it’s easy for jokes to be missed, but Microhabitat charmed an audience full of British sarcasm and dry humour with its jokes about everyday life and societal expectations. The writing is brilliant throughout, and the pacing and comedic timing works so well.

Each character is very different and had lots of depth, and I became fully engrossed in Mi-so’s interactions with them. As we delve deeper into the lives of these people, we learn dark secrets and learn that many appear to be doing great on the outside, but inside it’s not the case. Mi-so is a very compassionate character and the way she allows them to confide in her was a joy to watch. She cares deeply for those around her despite the fact one could argue that she is very naive about the world, stuck in her old ways. We are offered a very intimate look into the lives of everyday South Korean citizens, and I feel privileged to have experienced that on such a large scale. Mi-so and her friends are all average, everyday people that I’m sure many could relate to, to the point where it feels almost documentary-like in nature.

The cinematography was stunning throughout, and I really enjoyed seeing different areas, class backgrounds and ‘habitats’ that were situated throughout the film. A real effort was made to show the audience both sides of life in Seoul, and the kind of people that live there. It felt like a very honest and eye-opening portrayal of a city I have never experienced myself, and the audience were expected to make up their own minds about lots of things. I’m still thinking about it a few days later, making it an incredibly impactful piece of filmmaking.

Microhabitat was a fantastic opening film and got me feeling very excited for the rest of the festival, and Jeon Go-Woon’s future work. It was great seeing a female director open the festival, and I can’t wait to follow the rest of her career throughout the years.

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