Busan 2022 Review: A WILD ROOMER, Wry and Stimulating Character Study Delights
Screening in the Busan International Film Festival's signature New Currents competition section, A Wild Roomer, the delightfully droll debut of director Lee Jeong-hong, is a refreshing character study that unfurls around a minor mystery.
The film begins much as it aims to continue, by taking its time to introduce us to goateed carpenter Gi-hong (Park Gi-hong) and his assistant, who are refitting a small piano teaching academy
Over several sequences we soak up the minutiae of their work and, through the pleasing cadence of their slang and colloquialism-strewn dialogue, steadily gain insight into the casual but slightly fraught nature of their relationship.
The story, such as it is, doesn't come into focus until much later, but this is never a problem, as the film immediately grabs our attention with its careful compositions, refreshing characters and wry sense of humor.
It's immediately clear that Director Lee knows what he's doing. There's a vision behind the prosaic details of the manual labor on screen, and we readily entrust ourselves into his capable hands.
Some of those details include various doors and keypads that characters try to force their way through. These barriers become a recurring motif, as shifting levels of privacy impact the relationships between different characters.
Job completed, Gi-hong returns home, to a rented room in a modern but empty house. His landlord, who is about the same age, lives on the premises and doesn't do much with his time. He invites Gi-hong over for drinks and the pair soon become firm drinking buddies.
Early on, the landlord even tells Gi-hong he doesn't need to knock on the front door, he can just open an inner door and enter his private area anytime, without warning. The problem with this friendly suggestion is that the landlord could also theoretically encroach on Gi-hong's space in similar fashion.
Their friendship gains a new dimension when they discover a large dent in the roof of Gi-hong's van. It's a sunny day after a rainy night, but after driving down the road for a while, pooled water in the dent sloshes over the windscreen every time Gi-hong slows down.
After a bit of light sleuthing, they find out that the damage was caused when someone squatting in the piano studio during the renovations hopped down on the van from the roof.
While giving Gi-hong the grand tour, the landlord explains that the architectural concept of his home is all about separation and connection. This theme applies to pretty much all the relationships in the film, as people are forced together by proximity or circumstance.
Everyone may appear friendly on the surface, but the film subtly shows us what's wrong with most of these connections. As the story progresses some relationships crisscross, forming new connections, which add complex layers to the ones we've already become familiar with.
This all leads to a very effective climax that doesn't give us any tidy resolutions but pushes us to wonder what will happen to these characters next.
By presenting one of the most unique films on show in Busan this year, director Lee has clearly asserted himself as a talent to watch.