Whiskey, cigarettes, and her boyfriend Hansol (Ahn Jae-hong), that’s all that Miso (Esom) needs to be happy. She lives life on the edge of the poverty line in Seoul, earning 45,000 won ($40) a day as a cleaner, so, when the price for cigarettes goes up in the New Year she must decide what to give up on. To her, the answer is clear: leave her apartment. Essentially becoming homeless, Miso packs her few belongings in her bright orange suitcase and asks her former bandmates to put her up for a few days at a time until she can find somewhere cheap enough to live in.
Her friends have changed in the years since they were in university together, each having had to give up on their dreams, or happiness, so they can lead a ‘normal’ life. There’s the keyboardist who is sick of taking care of her no-good husband and his parents when she can’t cook or clean to save her life; the drummer whose recent divorce and life of debt leads him to hide away in his room to cry and drink his sorrows away. Then there’s the vocalist with overbearing parents who will go so far as to lock Miso in their home so she can marry him; and the guitarist who is not as happy with her family life as she pretends to be. Each have their own troubles, and Miso -for her part- tries to help them as best she can.
Jeon Go-woon’s directorial debut is incredibly moving thanks to its unexpectedly beautiful narrative and selfless lead character. Miso is so kind, so unconcerned with her own problems in the face of others, that she is an inspiration. Her love of smoking and drinking aside, this is a person who will do whatever it takes to make sure those around her are okay, even when she doesn’t really know them. This is particularly apparent when she finds her employer in tears at home when she’s meant to me working. She’s pregnant, and doesn’t know who the father is, she tells Miso, expecting to be judged for her line of work. But Miso is unfazed, preferring to make sure that her boss has eaten properly to keep her strength up, and giving her a shoulder to cry on.
What’s more, Miso is a stout believer in staying true to herself and her pastimes regardless of what life tries to throw at her. She finds happiness in the everyday, perfectly encapsulating the London Korean Film Festival’s theme of finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Miso’s journey is as emotional for her as it is for the audience witnessing her struggles. At the end of the day she’s also a character that we don’t have to worry about, even when her boyfriend decides to up sticks and move to Saudi Arabia for an indefinite amount of time, so long as she has her vices Miso will be just fine.
Microhabitat opened the London Korean Film Festival, and will screen across the country during the festival’s tour on Nov 16-25.