[HanCinema's Film Review] "roooom"
By William Schwartz | Published on
In the opener to "roooom" apartment complex supervisor Sang-pil (played by Kim Jin-soo) negotiates reduced moving fare, set the bottom floor café in order, and finally walk up the stairs to deal with an errand for a tenant before being taken for a rude surprise. This single extended shot is highly mundane and even intriguing. I'd never really thought about what life was like for an apartment complex supervisor. Alas, Sang-pil is quickly abandoned as "roooom" instead becomes a more typical omnibus where each of the four short films deals with a different stage of love.
The first in sequence and the first metaphorically deals with a couple in disagreement over whether they've broken up or not. While the story initially has very umcomfortable stalkerish undertones, the characters oddly become more relatable once it becomes clear that they are both being jerks to Sang-pil. Ergo, it follows that they are also jerks to each other and that this is their normal state of being. The two lovers do have a sympathetic situation though, although it would be easier to feel sorry for them if they were nicer.
That leads nicely into the second story- well, the second metaphorical story anyway. It's the third in the sequence, and the couple here lives in happy poverty surrounded in their tiny apartment by dubious merchandise they are constantly trying to offload. Young-seok (played by Joo Min-jin) then gets a hint that maybe his destiny does not necessarily involve chronic failure. We see him wrestle with the question of whether friendship is more important than success, and become more unlikable for his trouble.
The last story chronologically, and the third metaphorically then shows how the dissolution of trust and a focus on obligations over feelings has doomed the next older couple. Incidentally this story is by far the creepiest of the bunch. Remember how the first story had stalkerish undertones? Well, this one is straight up a stalkerish fantasy. Soo-young (played by Shin Eun-jung) is attacked and does...not respond logically.
I might have understood Soo-young's thought process better if she'd ever like, spoken or anything. Seon-ah (played by Kim Sun-hwa-I) is a veterinarian who spends her entire story steeped in drugs and possible hallucinations regarding a lost life but I could still grasp her general hopelessness because the reasons for her weird behavior were reasonably well explained. I wouldn't go so far as to call Seon-ah's story interesting, but I could at least see the point.
As an omnibus that's where the main shortcoming in "roooom" is. I can sort of string along a greater theme in the sense that all the stories deal with romances in lives of quiet desperation. But these are all just simple character studies. The spectrum from my favorite short story (Young-seok) to my least favorite one (Soo-young) is based entirely on which characters I could empathize with and understand the best. The main potentially interesting conceit, that all of these characters live in the same apartment building, is very underutilized.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.