Busan 2021 Review: THE APARTMENT WITH TWO WOMEN, Sensational Debut Is an Electric Dysfunctional Family Drama
One of the most dysfunctional families of recent memory has its dirty laundry aired out in the hypnotic The Apartment with Two Women, an ambitious and surprisingly mature debut from 29-year-old director Kim Se-in.
In a barnstorming performance, Yang Mal-bok plays Soo-kyung, a gregarious middle-aged woman with red highlights in her hair who is quick to anger and perpetually needs to be the center of attention. Most of the time, the target of her frequent outbursts is her daughter Yi-jung (Lym Ji-ho), a young office worker who still behaves like a withdrawn teenager.
These polar emotional opposites live together in a cramped apartment and have never gotten along. Things suddenly get a lot worse between them when Soo-kyung intentionally knocks her daughter over with a car, and the usually diffident Yi-jung sides against her when the insurance investigators come snooping around, ready to take her to court.
With a legal spat brewing in the background, Soo-kyung is also contemplating moving in with her boyfriend, but she can't stand his daughter. Meanwhile, Yi-jung tries to be friendly with a new female colleague at work, but the more she opens up to her, the more awkward their relationship becomes.
Though it's been saddled with a fairly drab English title, The Apartment with Two Women's original Korean title, which translates as 'Two Women Wearing the Same Underwear' is a far more accurate representation of the film, capturing its unusual tone and the unique symbiotic nature of this explosive mother-daughter pairing.
Underwear pops up frequently in the film. The protagonists are often seen slipping in and out of it, it is sometimes stained with menstrual blood, and in one extraordinary sequence, Yi-kyung illuminates her mother with her smartphone light as she listlessly puts her underwear on after a blackout interrupts her shower.
Soo-kyung and Yi-jung hate each other, but they have the same craving for human interaction, they face similar issues as women, and they are socially awkward to a degree that unsettles people around them.
Yet they are bound to one another. In a flashback, Soo-kyung abandons Yi-jung on her graduation day for a night of drinking, but her last stop is inevitably the apartment she shares with her daughter. Yi-jung tries to move out, but she learns that other people aren't capable of handling her idiosyncrasies, and quickly finally herself back where she started. Like the panties that bind them, Soo-kyung and Yi-jung occasionally have to clean and air out their relationship, but it doesn't take much for it to get soiled again.
Yang Mal-bok is not a name that will be familiar to many, but chances are that you recently saw her in a little show called Squid Game, in which she plays Contestant #453, at grey-haired woman who surprises her fellow contestants when she presses a certain button in episode two of the global Netflix smash.
In a role that calls to mind a ferocious Jeon Do-yeon, Yang utterly dominates the screen with her magnetic performance. Though Soo-kyung's charisma should by all rights eclipse all the other characters, Yang's chemistry with the rest of the cast fuels some incredible scenes, particularly those she shares with Lim Ji-ho, playing her daughter in her first feature film role. At first, Yi-jung resembles the many quiet young girls in low-budget Korean cinema, but Lim soon turns her into a special character.
At well over two hours, Kim Se-in's film is one the long side for an indie family drama, but each scene bristles with energy, thanks to compact editing and Kim's clever directorial choices, which keep twisting our expectations as the narrative hurtles down unexpected paths. Though emotionally intense, the film is elevated through its giddy and twisted sense of humor, even in its darkest moments.
The Apartment with Two Women was one of the graduation projects from the Korean Academy of Film Arts (KAFA) this year, and there's no doubt that Director Kim is ready for her next challenge.