Carnality and Consensual Consumption
By Michael Palumbo
Cheol-su Park’s 301/302 is a Korean film which examines the struggles of two aloof neighbors, the titular 301 and 302, named for the numbers which designate their apartments. The two are true foils: whereas 301 is a compulsive cook and binge eater who frequently revels in casual sex, 302 is a quiet and reserved writer who is vehemently disgusted by both food and sex. As the two become acquainted, the intensity of their relationship grows as 301 compulsively tries to make the terrified 302 eat. Through these two characters, 301/302 explores the relationship between food and sex, as well as the idiosyncratic lifestyles of modern, independent Korean women.
Park frames 301/302 as a murder mystery told through a series of flashback sequences. Following the bizarre opening credits, which feature frames of spilled blood on cold metallic surfaces, we see a food-obsessed 301 recount her interactions with 302 in the days before her disappearance. 301 describes how she tried to force the anorexic 302 to eat and enjoy her own carnality. Their relationship escalates over the following days, as 301 painstakingly prepares meals for 302, which ultimately are thrown in the trash. Their relationship comes to a climax when 301 discovers that 302 has been disposing of all the dishes she has so carefully prepared for her. As 301 force feeds 302 the food straight from the garbage, we are offered our first glimpse into 302’s backstory. As a young girl, 302 was sexually abused by her step-father and once inadvertently killed another young girl in an attempt to take revenge upon her abuser. As an adult, she claims “My body is filled with dirty things. Well, how can I throw a man or food into my body?” In return for her gut-wrenching story, 301 offers her own story of the loveless marriage which she was trapped in for years. When 301 realized that her husband was having an affair on their anniversary, she secretly cooked the dog he loved more than her and fed it to him for breakfast. In her loneliness following her divorce, 301 obsessively turned to food, using it to complement her carnal nymphomania. The neuroses of both 301 and 302 were driven by neglect and abuse from their would-be loved ones. Their broken relationship with food and with their bodies is driven by broken relationships.
Figure 1: A terrified 302 averts her eyes as 301 angrily instructs her to eat the food she found in 302’s trash.
Having laid their cards on the table, the neighbors come to an impasse. It is clear to 301 that 302 will never be able to eat or enjoy sex. Likewise, 302 realizes that 301 will never relent from forcing food upon her. Resigned to failure, 301 remarks “The food for you does not exist anywhere in the world.” An unusually sensual and touchy 302 replies “At that time, did the dog suffer very much?” Realizing the solution to their predicament, 302 strips naked and offers herself to 301, who strangles her and prepares a stew from her body. In the closing moments of the film, we see an apparition of 302 smiling as she eats her own flesh.
Figure 2: A melancholic 301 looks on at the spot where a ghostly apparition of 302 happily ate her own flesh just moments ago.
301/302, as narrated by 301, seems to conclude that the solution to modern life for the Korean woman is moderation. Both 301 and 302 practiced extreme relationships with food and sex. Whereas one was enamored with carnality, the other was deathly afraid of it. In the killing of 302, both found their cures. 301, in consuming the flesh of the austere 302, symbolically adopted a portion of her moderation. Likewise, 302 found release from her abuse not in consuming (and thereby perpetuating the cycle of “consumption” to which she fell victim) but in consensually being consumed.
301/302. Dir. Cheol-su Park, Perf. Eun-jin Pang and Sin-hye Hwang. Koch Lorber Films, 1995.