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You can find this movie in theaters currently in the US (May 2005), although, in limited release, and i would strongly recommend that you go see it if it plays near you. This is the latest movie from one of the greatest directors alive today, Ki-Duk KIM, who has established himself over the past 5 years. From Korea, he has created a variety of films all contemplative over the human condition and those strange animals we call people roaming this planet.
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. Finally, in Samaritan Girl (2004) he looks at the problem of teen prostitution, which is rampant in modern Japan and Korea alike. Ki-Duk KIM's films are always gorgeous, slow, contemplative, and moody. At times, they can be very scary and violent because they never shy away from showing all sides of people, including the most horrible ones. After all, this is Korean cinema.
In 3-Iron, we have all the elements of a great Ki-Duk KIM film. It is absolutely gorgeous, and fascinating. In Seoul, a transient young man lives a life literally in the shadows of society. He moves from house to house, which he breaks into when their owners are away. Sometimes staying for just a weekend, sometimes for weeks, he lives his life as if he were part of the family, or a close friend. He fixes things in the house, cleans it up, takes pictures of himself in the house and so on. One day, he goes into a house he thinks is empty and meets a lonely woman, unhappily married to a violent man. They quickly form a strong bond.
What strikes right away in this film is that it is for all intent and purpose quasi-silent. There must be no more than 10 pages of dialog throughout the entire movie. But in a strange way, it took me some time to realize it. The writing in this film, the details that you are shown, the character emotions that you see, speak volumes more than any dialogue i have seen of late. The writing is so incredibly detailed. It's almost as if Ki-Duk KIM postulated that humans could not talk, and so, how could they relate to one another? Could contact, looks, touch, facial expressions suffice? Ask yourself this: what if you decided to live your life for an entire day, 24h, without uttering a single word, and people around you doing the same. What effect would that have on you and the people around you? Ultimately, the young man has chosen a life of solitude, even if he does so impersonating the lives of the people whose houses he occupies. The woman is in a similar position, yearning for someone in her life to confide herself to, but trapped in the prison that her husband has pulled together for her through demeaning treatment and violence. By meeting one another, they effectively escape from their cocoons, or rather, they create a new cocoon for the both of them. For those who play Golf, the 3-Iron is generally the least used club in the game. Ki-Duk KIM has said that it always fascinated him to consider this lonely thing, seldom used, in an expensive set of Golf Clubs, housed in an expensive holder and all. To him, his main characters are in the middle of this expensive environment, but are never quite really fully part of it.
Technically, the movie is really good. It's definitely up to the standard that Ki-Duk KIM has set in his previous movies. The Art Direction is fantastic. The houses that we visit are characters in and of themselves. They convey a lot of the movie's meaning. The Cinematography is really good and nicely highlights the houses, although it doesn't reach the heights of The Isle (2000) or Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring (2003). Performance-wise, you also have something very good. Occupying the screen for 95 minutes without uttering a single word and still remain interesting is a difficult task, and the two main actors pull it off well. Finally, the Music is really exceptional, conveying an additional layer of emotions and complexities that no dialogue, once again, could easily convey so efficiently.
I love Ki-Duk KIM's work, and i have been scouting for his movies, sometimes paying a handsome price of them. I found this film about 2 months ago as a Region-3 DVD special edition from Korea. It now can be found in specialized stores and i sure it will soon be released as a US DVD. If you can see it in a theater, as usual, i strongly recommend that you do so. But given the film's limited distribution, most people will probably not be able to go see it. So, try to find it on DVD, and experience the solemnity and contemplative force of this film. Using many ancient techniques borrowed from the silent era, this film will transport you for 90mn into a different world, a wordless world, a world of silence and beauty.
- Laurent Hasson