Skip to content

Korea Blog: Revisiting “301, 302,” Park Chul-soo’s Stylish Film About Food, Sex, and Other Horrors

Different foreigners who move to Korea struggle with different aspects of life here, but it’s safe to say that none warm up immediately to the ways of Korean food-waste disposal. The country’s ban on food waste of any kind from its landfills necessitates that it be disposed of, and thus stored, separately from the rest of the trash. Instead of under-the-sink garbage disposals, a rarity here whose unauthorized installation can bring about enormous fines, most households have cans just for food waste, which over the course of a few days can become an awful visual and olfactory spectacle indeed. If that sounds bad,  imagine taking out your food trash and having a glance inside the container around the back of the apartment building where everyone else has been throwing theirs out for the past few days, especially in the heat of the summertime.

The most disgusting scene of Park Chul-soo’s 301, 302 (삼공일 삼공이) — and perhaps the most disgusting scene in all of Korean cinema, even given its reputation in some quarters for “extremity” — evokes the same feelings as does the sight of a long-filled food-trash bin but even more so, though the film came out a full decade before the passage of the law that put the current disposal system into effect. It comes about halfway into a battle of wills between two thirtysomething women, neighbors across a hallway. The newly divorced Yun-hee, having grown fat from all the elaborate meals she cooked for her ex-husband, moves into unit 302 of the New Hope Bio Apartments with ambitions of slimming down and starting life afresh. She can think of no better way to introduce herself to Song-hee in unit 301 than by delivering her a plate of food, which Song-hee promptly tosses into the garbage after taking a moment to vomit at the very sight of.

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.