Alternatively funny and melancholic, South Korean comedy film “Microhabitat” presents an unconventional heroine to remember. Here is a young, resourceful woman determined to stick to her simple pleasures as much as she can, and the movie is often amusing as generating a number of humorous moments between her and other characters around her, but it is also quite poignant at times as we come to see how adamantly she tries to maintain her modest happiness in her tough daily life.
When we meet Mi-so (Esom) for the first time during the opening scene, she is in the middle of her cleaning work in the house belonging to some affluent girl around her age. Although the money she earns everyday from cleaning several places is not that much, that has been more than enough for paying the monthly rent for her shabby one-room residence located somewhere in Seoul, and she usually spends the rest of her earnings on cigarette and whiskey, which have been the only joy in her life besides her nice boyfriend Han-sol (Ahn Jae-hong).
However, the situation becomes more difficult for Mi-so when the new year arrives. The price of cigarettes is increased as a part of governmental non-smoking policy, and then her landlord notifies to her that she will have to pay more money for her rent. As checking her account book, she soon comes to see that she must decrease her spending in one way or another, and then she makes a rather drastic choice; instead of quitting cigarette and whiskey, she decides to be homeless for a while, and she instantly packs her suitcase and then leaves her current residence.
All Mi-so needs is now someone willing to provide her a place to stay temporarily, and it initially seems that she can get such persons easily. While her boyfriend cannot do that as he currently resides in a factory dormitory, there are five old friends who were very close to her during those fun days of their college band, and all of these friends happen to live in Seoul, though there has not been much correspondence among them since their good old college years.
As Mi-so drifts from one place to another, we meet her five friends one by one. After flatly rejected by Moon-yeong (Kang Jin-ah), Mi-so goes to Hyeon-jeong (Kim Gook-hee), and she is wholeheartedly welcomed by Hyeon-jeong, but Hyeon-jeong’s home turns out to be not a very good place to stay for her. Living with not only her husband but also her parents-in-law, Hyeong-jeong has felt bitter about her disappointing married life, and there is a tender scene between her and Mi-so when they become a bit nostalgic about their college years.
In case of Dae-yong (Lee Sung-wook), his apartment looks better in comparison, but he has recently been daunted a lot by his separation from his wife, and it does not take much time for Mi-so to see how messy his life has been. After cleaning his apartment, she also cooks a breakfast for him, and he certainly appreciates her kindness despite still being depressed as before.
The funniest moment in the movie comes from Mi-so’s odd encounter with Rok-i (Choi Deok-moon) and his parents. Right from when she arrives in their house, his parents greet her a little too enthusiastically, and the circumstance later becomes hilariously weirder when Mi-so belatedly comes to realize what they really want from her (No, this is not the South Korean version of “Get Out” (2017)).
When she eventually comes to Jeong-mi (Kim Jae-hwa), Mi-so feels more comfortable than before because Jeong-mi is your average affluent housewife who has a very big house thanks to her rich parents-in-law, but then she somehow begins to feel uncomfortable. In the end, there comes a hurtful conversation scene between her and Jeong-mi, who has not been that pleased about Mi-so’s casual lifestyle.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Mi-so and her boyfriend is seriously tested when he makes an important decision after getting frustrated more and more with his life going nowhere. While Mi-so is not very glad about that, she decides to respect his choice anyway, and we subsequently get a small touching scene in which she reminds him that he should not give up his aspiration just because of that decision.
As lightly gliding around these and other episodic moments, the screenplay by director Jeon Go-woon did a commendable job of fleshing out its heroine and other characters. While Mi-so comes to us as a vivid, likable human character to watch, the other substantial characters in the movie are depicted with considerable humor and personality, and its main cast members are all wonderful in their respective roles. While Esom, who previously played a supporting character in “The Queen of Crime” (2016), ably carries the film with her charming performance, Ahn Jae-hong, Kang Jin-ah, Kim Gook-hee, Lee Sung-wook, Choi Deok-moon, Kim Jae-hwa, and Jo Soo-hyang have each own moment to shine around her, and I particularly enjoyed the unaffected screen chemistry between Esom and Ahn Jae-hong, who has been one of new interesting South Korean performers since his lively breakout performance in “The King of Jokgu” (2013).
Overall, “Microhabitat” is an impressive comedy film balancing itself well between hilarity and poignancy, and I especially admire unexpected poetic moments during its final act. To be frank with you, I have often wondered whether South Korean movies are actually going downhill these days due to their serious lack of diversity, but there are still some excellent ones out there, and I can assure you that “Microhabitat” is one of such fabulous films.