What the film is priming us for - as the teaching primes its busy students - is entry into a markedly different labour market than The Young Observant delineated. In what may well be the most shocking sequence for Western audiences, one maid recalls how one of her male employers routinely molested her, and shrugs that her only recourse was to laugh it off. Given that one of the roleplays Yoon films concerns what to do if the man of the house forces himself upon you, these sorts of assaults are clearly far more common than one might hope. The extent to which these women really are slaves-in-waiting is made dismally clear by a telephone interview with a potential employer who insists their staff serve the full two years of their initial contract, and to do so while sleeping in the same room as a baby. (The string of assents with which the candidate meets every last one of these demands gets ever more heartbreaking.) Yet Overseas is never straightforwardly issuey; it is instead quietly observational, and perceptive with that. You can sense Yoon's ears pricking up when one trainee brings up President Duterte's comment that OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) are "heroes": the discussion that follows offers the sight of these women defining who and what they are for themselves. It may be the last time they get to do that for a while.
The film is not without flickers of humour: the roleplaying sporadically generates absurd chuckles, as the women drag up or adopt childish voices so as to embody potential employers and their demanding offspring. Signs of solidarity, too - a quality that might be consolidated and unionised if a hard-right wrecking ball like Duterte weren't so furiously set against it. Much as The Young Observant played out as a bootcamp movie, Overseas introduces us to a band of sisters, caught sharing their experiences, making plans for the future, and finally bunking down together at night, as if to stockpile some warmth and camaraderie ahead of the long nights of solitude awaiting them in a foreign land. Yet there's a sadness written deep into every frame of the film. These women are finally soldiers - good soldiers, as Duterte paints them, but soldiers nevertheless - shipped out to make sacrifices amid the dirty war of deregulated global capitalism so they can send a little extra money back home each month. I was worried by the film's long opening shot: an unbroken four-minute take rather dispassionately observing one young maid as she breaks down in tears while cleaning a toilet; the fear was that Yoon was merely here to peer in, for pure voyeurism's sake. The remainder of this profoundly empathetic film, thankfully, is patient and sensitive indeed about showing us why these women cry - and why they press on regardless. We can but wish them well, wherever they end up in this world.
Overseas will be available to stream via MUBI UK from tomorrow.