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Closing our New York Asian Film Festival 2018 coverage with the movie that won the Jury prize.  MICROHABITAT tells a singular and excellently acted tale of a young Seoul woman being pushed out of society and off the grid by the pressures of poverty and homelessness. 

Making her directorial debut, Jeon Go-woon, and Actor Ahn Jae-hong spoke with LMD about the meaning and collaborative effort behind this award-winning film.

Dig it!



Director Jeon Go-woon and Actor Ahn Jae-hong


The Lady Miz Diva:  Director Jeon you were known as a writer, producer and actress before making this film.  Please tell us what was the inspiration behind MICROHABITAT?

Jeon Go-woon:  I think it starts from two points: The first is that especially the housing market is very overheated, right now.  So, at the time, I was really feeling this sort of rage at the rising housing costs in Seoul.

Also, the Park administration was in power at the time, and the price for cigarettes was also raised during that time.  So, I was really feeling a lot of rage toward these two points, and I really want to talk about that in this story, so thatís how it came about.


LMD:  Miso goes without many life necessities, including a home to have her daily whiskey and cigarettes.  What do they mean to her?

JGw:  I think, and as you see in the film, it does depict how difficult it is being on your own as an adult, and having your own space.  And I feel those two things; namely whiskey and cigarettes, itís something that you can only be able to start having once youíre over 18.  So, it is, I think, representative of adulthood, in a sense.  I donít know if whiskey is a common beverage here, but in Korea, at least, whiskey is something that is quite expensive, and not something that you can have every day.

I also think that whiskey and cigarettes is a metaphor for how reality is something that is difficult to sustain without getting drunk on something.  And those two things have something bad; {that} sheís able to get drunk on, and for her to be able to pass the difficulties of the reality sheís experiencing.  Also, another thing about the whiskey, is her being in a very economically poor situation, but still going for this relatively expensive beverage I think really sort of adds to her personal taste.


LMD:  Why is she this way?  After not exactly being supportive when Miso is in need, the band members talk about how much she looked after them when they were all younger.  While transitioning from house to house, Miso makes a beautiful meal for the keyboardist, completely overhauls the house of the drummer, yet she doesnít take good care of herself.

JGw:  First of all, I think itís sort of hard to take care of yourself when you donít have your own space.  But when I think about it the character, Miso, I think sheís a selfless character.  I think sheís unable to see the situation that sheís in, and rather she sees more of what others are going through, and thatís why she does the things that she thinks others may need. 

Because Iím not the kind of person who consciously thinks about taking care of myself, I donít think I really thought about it in those terms that you said just now.  I guess whiskey and cigarettes, sheís doing what she wants to do with the whiskey and cigarettes.  Which may not be the most physically self-caring thing to do, but I think psychologically, itís also something that is taking care of herself.  So, I think is a duality in that.

I also think itís a quality that comes from people who have a lot of maternal instincts.  Like, for example, take a mother, she is really very dedicated to her child, and bringing her child up, but when you think about that, sheís not able to really take care of herself, as much.  I think that is like a character trait in Miso that comes into play.


LMD:  Are the band members meant to be caricatures of some of the expectations of todayís society? There is the hyper-driven, professional woman, the messy housewife/mom, the man in his thirties whose parents are desperate to see him married, and the trophy wife who married high and is insecure about her position.

JGw:  Rather than talk about the societal pressures, I think Iíd put it a bit more simply.  I think I approached it in a way where I wanted to sort of convey the idea that to have your own place in Seoul, every one of us has to give up on something in their lives. 

In the case of the first friend, she has to give up rest; thereís no rest for her.  The second one, sheís lost her dream.  The third one, heís in debt.  The fourth one, is still living with his parents; heís not able to become independent.  I think thatís what I wanted to convey.


LMD:  Director Jeon, you have worked with Mr. Ahn before in SUNSHINE BOYS {2013}, as well as Esom who plays Miso.  Do you find comfort in maintaining a small unit of talented people around you as you make films?  Like Martin Scorsese? {Thereís a large Scorsese portrait on the wall.}

JGw: {Laughs} You mentioned SUNSHINE BOYS, but with SUNSHINE BOYS and MICROHABITAT, they are all part of a creative, collaborative Ė I wouldnít say salon Ė but itís a part of a creative collaborative group that we have, that have been working on these projects together.

I believe in the case of working with actors, because a lot of the films that we produce are not commercial features, I think itís really the friendship that has grown over the years that has our actors work with us, and them being able to trust us, in a way, and that trust being within this group as ourselves.  So, yes, I think the creative collaboration, that sort of atmosphere does sustain and keep us going.


LMD:  The engine of the film are the wonderful performances.  Director, after your answer about being part of a creative collaborative group, how much of what we see on screen is the result of script and how much is collaboration with the cast, or improvisation?

JGw:  I really didnít have any set idea for any the characters.  It was more that I had basic ideas for all of them.  Then, before filming commenced, we would get together as often as possible, and we would improvise, and I would talk to the actors.  And the more we met, I think the more the actors were also able to open up, and give themselves over to the characters.  Thatís how we worked on them.


LMD:  Mr. Ahn, after what directorís just said, tell us what you contributed to the character of Han-sol?

Ahn Jae-hong:  First, like director mentioned, we had a lot of meetings beforehand and a lot of rehearsals, Even on set, during rehearsals, if something didnít feel right, she was very flexible about changing things up.

I was mostly working with Esom, and we wanted their relationship to feel real.  I think it was beneficial to our process that we kept on doing away with parts that just didnít feel natural to us.  I think that was key in making that relationship look natural and real.  It was my first time working with Esom, but we got along really well, so we were very comfortable with each other, and I think thatís what came through in our performance.

JGw:  Just to add on to what Jae-hong said, I really wanted the love to be real and they got close very fast.  I think his contribution to that relationship was enormous.  I think what Jae-hong contributed to the character the most was that I wanted the love to feel real, and they got together very well. 


LMD:  Okay, itís rant time.  I have some feelings about Han-sol.

AJh:  Iím curious?


LMD:  Han-sol is the worst boyfriend on the planet! 

JGw: {Bursts out laughing}


LMD:  He doesnít help her at all.  She literally gives blood to buy movie tickets, it seems like she pays for his meals when theyíre together.  When he knows sheís homeless, Han-sol guilt trips her to leave her male drummerís house and wander the streets, because he is jealous. Then, he leaves for two years without consulting her, and expects her to wait, which we know she will, but he doesnít offer to send her money from his new job.  Mr. Ahn what did you think his true feelings were about her?

AJh:  You can feel that way.  He was very in earnest about his choices, and very serious about his choices.  While I do understand your point, I believe from the standpoint of Han-solís character, I think thatís the best choice that came out after very much deliberation on his side.  If there were other options, he wouldíve gone with other options, but in this case, I really feel that Han-sol reached rock-bottom, and he knew that there was no way out, and there was no way to really change the situation that he was in. 

And so, for me, for Han-sol, I believe, he was making the decision despite all the sorrow he knew would bring himself and Miso.  It is my belief that he would come back after two years.  And so I feel that he was really trying to reassure her, in a sense, despite all the sorrows it was giving him.  And so, I hope that you understand his position.

JGw:  I do want to add that Han-solís character is a very Korean male character, because when youíve seen the patriarchal society that Korea is, right now.  I would actually go further as to argue that Han-sol is actually a less macho or chauvinistic character, because he approves of Misoís smoking habits. 

So, the convention of having to provide for your female partner, I think heís sort of a character thatís sacrificed in that sort of societal pressure.  I also really wanted to depict how someone whoís not as economically successful is not very accepted in Korean society, or also looked down upon.  So, I also feel it he is symbolic of that sort of social pressure, as well. 


LMD:  What would you like to MICROHABITAT to say to the New York audience?

AJh:  Iím actually very curious about what the New York audience reaction would be like, because this film is a satirical take on a very current Korean society and situation.  Iím really curious to see how people will react to this. 

For my next work, I have two films in postproduction currently, and I have another one in the works.  The title of that film translates to ďHunting Time.Ē  Iíd love to be able to come with that next year, but I really want to focus on MICROHABITAT.

JGw:  I understand that the housing costs in New York are crazy astronomical, as well.  So, I feel that may be a point that people will empathise with, and I hope that they enjoy it from that point of view. 

I also feel that the sense of humor employed in this film is also very Korean, so Iím interested to see how audiences react to that.  So, basically, I hope that people enjoy both of us living in these crazy, expensive cities, and seeing if we can enjoy this film.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 10th, 2018


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