The Apartment with Two Women
같은 속옷을 입는 두 여자 (Gateun sogoseul imneun du yeoja)
South Korea, 2021, 140’, Korean
Directed by: Kim Se-in
Screenplay: Kim Se-in
Photography (color): Moon Myoung-hwan
Production Design: Lee Jung-hyun
Editing: Kim Se-in
Music: Lee Min-hwi
Producers: Joh Gun-shick, Jo Seong-won, Jang Ji-won
Cast: Lym Ji-ho (Yi-jung/daughter), Yang Mal-bok (Su-kyung/mother), Jeong Bo-Ram (So-hee), Yang Heung-ju (Yong-yeol)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Su-kyung lives in a small apartment with her 20-year old daughter Yi-jung. To say that the two women don’t get along would be a vast understatement. Su-kyung, aggressive and loud, berates and humiliates her daughter at every opportunity. Yi-jung is painfully withdrawn, her face partially hidden behind long strands of hair, but the simmering hate she feels for her mother comes through in her trembling voice. One day things go from bad to worse when, in the midst of a confrontation in a parking lot, Su-kyung hits her daughter with the car. She insists it was an accident, but Yi-jung is furious, and resolves to take the matter to court.
Among the Korean films that premiered at the 2021 Busan International Film Festival, The Apartment with Two Women was the one that had everyone talking. It’s an intense viewing experience to be sure, with its claustrophobic mood never once easing up over its 140 minute running time. But its originality speaks for itself, and the film leaves you with many questions to ponder.
It appears at first glance to be a story about abuse. Our sympathies naturally align with Yi-jung when we see the oppressive and cruel way that her mother treats her. But as the story progresses, we realize that the film is showing us a great deal more. Each of the women need space and freedom from each other more than anything, but circumstances always seem to prevent it. Su-kyung is in a relationship with a genial, supportive man, and she hopes to move in with him. But tensions arise with the man’s teenage daughter. Yi-jung too looks to one of her work colleagues for support, but in many ways, Yi-jung is a difficult person to help.
There seems to be something self-reinforcing about the ways that Su-kyung and Yi-jung suffocate each other. The reasons they can’t escape that cramped apartment are partly economic, but perhaps mostly psychological. The film’s Korean title, “Two Women Who Wear the Same Underwear,” vividly captures the sense of unwanted intimacy that binds them together.
The contributions of actors Yang Mal-bok (Su-kyung) and Lym Ji-ho (Yi-jung) are a major part of this film’s success. Actors often draw off of each other’s energy while performing, but in this work, the energy projected by each actor is entirely contradictory. Both performances are remarkable, but it’s the combination of the two performances which seems particularly impressive. It’s like fire and ice violently colliding over the course of the film, but never diluting each other.
Debut director Kim Se-in shows a great eye for detail, and she understands when to let images speak for themselves. Deliberately avoiding the standard rhythms of storytelling, she pushes the story forward quickly at times, and at other times slows down to let an image or mood take precedence. The overall effect is powerful and unsettling. It will be exciting to see where she takes her career from here.
A native of Incheon, Kim Se-in is a graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts. She has directed numerous short films including Submarine Sickness (2014), Hamster (2016), Playing with Fire (2018) and Container (2018). The Apartment with Two Women was made through the Korean Academy of Film Arts’ feature film production program. At the 2021 Busan International Film Festival it won numerous awards including the prestigious New Currents Award, and it also screened in the Panorama section of the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival.
2021 – The Apartment with Two Women