Notes on the Korean Film “Bandhobi (반두비, 2009)”

Posted on July 24, 2016


bandhobiWhat it’s about: A love story between a Korean girl named Min Seo and a Bangladeshi boy named Karim. Min Seo is a rebellious and impulsive high school student, whereas Karim is a migrant factory worker in his 20s. It depicts the life of a migrant worker from a poor Asian country, as well as the budding love between people from two different cultures. The film also shows us how migrants are typically treated in Korean society.

How it was told: As with romantic comedies, the two lead characters started out as enemies of sorts, until they took to liking each other. But as this film is not a romantic comedy, the film also explores and offers commentary on discrimination, exploitation of workers, and Korea’s double standards in treating foreigners – those who come from a rich country like the United States and those who come from a poor country like Bangladesh.  

What struck me: Karim, who was a person on the fringes of Korean society, fell in love with a Korean girl who was likewise living at the margins. While Karim was exploited by his employers and was treated with suspicion and disgust in his day-to-day life in Korea (accused of being the perpetrator by the police; treated rudely by the clothing store’s cashier when she chose to place Karim’s change on the table instead of handing it to Karim), Min Seo was also depicted as economically poor. She comes from a single parent household. Her mother is the breadwinner, and is self-employed with her “noraebang” business.  Her mother has an unemployed lover who seeks to be Min Seo’s step-father. Unlike her classmates, Min Seo is unable to go to cram schools because her family cannot afford it. This leads her to seek a part-time job at a massage parlor–a seedy one where the employees provide special services such as hand jobs–just so she can afford to take extra after-school classes.

This is more or less similar with what I have learned in my previous research on Southeast Asian migrant wives of Korean men. Migrants tend to be closely associated with Koreans who are likewise socially positioned weakly. I suppose this makes sense, as similarities attract rather than repel.

I wonder what happened to Karim at the end, though. We see him last being taken by immigration police, and Min Seo visiting him briefly in prison. Is it safe to assume that he got deported? Because the last we see of Min Seo was a scene of her coming to a Bangladesh restaurant, ordering food, and eating happily. And at some point, she sort of hugs herself the way Karim did.

Do I recommend this film?: Of course. It’s part of the growing list of films about Korea’s growing multicultural society. It gives us a glimpse of the plight of migrant workers and of love across cultures.