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Ki-duk Kim is one of the most prominent directors in the world today. His movies are always impeccably made, so original in their structure, and very probing of the human nature. He's also been quite prolific over the past few years, having made 10 movies between 2000 and 2006. With The Isle (2000), he pondered over desire, lust, and alienation in this moody horror drama tale of a mute woman catering to fishermen who establish a temporary residence on a remote lake to catch a rare and delicate fish. In Address Unknown (2001) he looked at the Korean society and the drama that constantly seems to permeate its people. On a background of the American military presence in the country since the Korean War, he tells the story of a boy born of a Korean mother, and a black American soldier who went back to the US, making ends meet day after day in a society who rejects him for not being a real Korean. With Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring (2003), he created a wonderful Buddhist tale of courage, redemption, and a man's life-long quest to tame his uncontrollable desire for material possessions and power. In Samaritan Girl (2004) he looks at the problem of teen prostitution, which is rampant in modern Japan and Korea alike. Recently, in 3-Iron (2004), he explored modern life and the solitude that comes with it, even, or especially, amidst large cities.
Many of his movies generally have little dialogs, instead relying on expressive imageries, enveloping music, and great performances. Bow, The (2005) is no exception, sporting probably about 10 pages of dialog over a 90 minute running time, a haunting and memorable score, and superb performances from its lead actors.
On a fishing boat at sea, a 60-year old man has been raising a girl since she was a baby and it is agreed that they will get married on her 17th birthday which is going to happen in a matter of weeks. They live a quiet and secluded life, renting the boat to day fishermen and practicing strange divination rites involving a bow for their guests. Their life changes when a teenage student comes aboard one day and the young girl takes quite an interest in him. How will the old man respond to this development? How will the girl behave, especially given how naive yet strong she is and the fact that she has never seen Land? Can she leave the boat which is the only thing she has known her whole life? Is the ritual bow going to end up being used in other ways than divination?
This movie could have ended up so easily as nothing more than an attack on arranged marriage, but Duk, who also wrote the film, masterfully weaves together a complex web of emotions. The young girl really doesn't know better, and breaking away from tradition proves to be much more difficult for her than she expected. And the old man, he has always been very kind and protective of her. The idea that this is just another dirty old man marrying a girl 40+ years her junior is quickly dispelled as we see how genuinely he cares for her. All is not as simple and black and white as it first appears of course, and Duk navigates those emotional waters with a delicate yet firm hand. And the end will certainly throw a loop into your preconceptions with a mild supernatural note that concludes the film very poetically.
This film is nothing short of amazing, with lead characters that will grab you by the neck. Without much dialog, the story moves forward with delicate gestures, expressive looks and faces, and actions, and this is done in such a powerful way. The performances from the old man and the young girl are first-rate. The soundtrack of the film is another prominent character, imbuing the film with a mystical quality. I found myself hearing the main melody in my head long after i had finished watching the film. Finally, shot entirely on the fishing boat at sea, the cinematography is exceptional, going way beyond the confines of the boat itself to reveal a very rich world in spite of the small size of the place. The colors are gorgeous, as a lot of pastel colors are used for the boat itself, and the sea is beautiful.
Ki-duk Kim has concocted here another masterpiece. The film's rich story line, detailed environment, and cultural immersion should be a pleasure for anyone who can stand the slow pace. Every frame if filled with details, every look and face is rich in emotion. The old saying is right, an image is worth a 1,000 words. At 90 minutes, 24 frames a second, this film speaks volumes. Another nice thing, Duk here is uncharacteristically mild with his subject matter, making the film much more approachable that others where he has shown much more graphic and arresting violence. This is a sweet, genuinely poetic work of art suitable for a larger audience.
- Laurent Hasson