3-IRON

 (Bin jip)

Directed by Kim Ki-duk. Korea. 2004.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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Korean director Kim Ki-duk's 3-Iron relates the odyssey of a macho teenager who breaks into people's homes when they are away in order to provide a "presence" in an empty house. It is a moody suspense thriller and "existential" love story that moves from one cruel and violent scene to another interspersed with interludes of meditative calm and ersatz mysticism. Jae Hee turns in a bravura performance as the enigmatic drifter Tae-suk. He does not utter a single word throughout the film but conveys layers of meaning through facial expressions and body movements, often breaking into a puzzling smile. A college graduate, Tae-suk finds little to do with his life other than riding his BMW motorcycle to attach pizza flyers to the front door of people's homes. When he goes back over his route, he discovers which people have not removed their flyers, concludes that they are not at home, and surreptitiously enters their house using a set of master keys. 

Apparently not concerned with whether or not they are away for a day, a week or a few hours, he enters their place of dwelling and simply helps himself to what is available without stealing anything. As one critic remarked, the film should have been titled Zen and the Art of Breaking and Entering. We never find out what this character's motivations are but it is irrelevant, as he is only one of many symbols that Kim substitutes for real people. Shortly after entering a wealthy home, he finds a morose battered woman Sun-hwa (Lee Sueng yeon) and feels an immediate connection. When her husband returns and begins abusing his wife again, the teenager comes to her rescue by pounding golf balls into the man's stomach, some sort of Zen lesson I presume. 

The two silent partners now form a connection and join together in their silent breaking and entering ritual. Reminiscent of Tsai Ming Liang's Vive L'Amour, they have sex in other people's beds, borrow their pajamas and help themselves to their food. They say nothing to each other, fix broken appliances, scrub bathroom floors, and do the laundry as repayment for the temporary appropriation of the home. In one of the houses, they find an old man lying dead on the floor. Without making any inquiries, alerting the police, trying to contact friends or relatives, the existential detectives simply bury the man in the front lawn of his house. When the man's son arrives, however, Tae-suk is arrested for murder, trespassing, and kidnapping and Sun-hwa is sent back to her husband to endure more abuse. The boy does not proclaim his innocence or try to defend himself but rather arrogantly provokes the anger of the police investigator and guards through his  prolonged silence and disappearing acts.

While 3-Iron has a haunting quality and contains some fine acting and gorgeous shot composition, the film shouts "spiritual message" from the opening scene. The equivalent of spiritual fast food, the film panders to growing Western interest in Eastern religion but misses the essence of what it is about. Spirituality lies in making oneself visible to the world, not invisible. It is about compassion, integrity, and open communication, spreading enlightenment through example not driving golf balls into a person's stomach or violating people's right to privacy. Like Kim Ki-duk's previous effort, Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall…and Spring, 3-Iron is quite appealing on the surface. It is only when you look underneath do you find that it is hollow at its core.

GRADE: B-
 

Howard Schumann
 
 
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