3-IRON (Kim Ki-duk, 2004)

“It’s hard to tell that the world we live in is either reality or a dream.”

It must be that the third film seen is the charm, or part of a charm; in any case, whereas I rejected Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . . and Spring (2003) and The Bow (2005) for their extreme cruelty, I quarter-like Bin-jip, which South Korean writer-director Kim Ki-duk made in between. It is not without its own dips into viciousness, however, which in its case comes in three forms: with a sense of entitlement, a man’s repeatedly beating his younger wife; with a sense of entitlement, a guard’s repeatedly beating a young prisoner who everyone knows is innocent of the crime for which he was jailed (medical tests show that the man he is supposed to have murdered died of lung cancer); assaults with hard-driven golf balls. Yet, overall, this really is a gentler film by Kim than the other two that I’ve seen, its style Bressonian, especially with its elliptical nature and its emphasis on sounds puncturing silence, with a dash of Lynch, especially Lost Highway (1997).
     Tae-suk is a drifter who breaks into what he believes are temporarily vacated houses in order to make himself at home and to do laundry by hand. In one house, Sun-hwa shadows him before confronting him; but when, mistaking Tae-suk for his wife’s companion, Sun-hwa’s returning businessman-husband beats her, Sun-hwa takes off with Tae-suk on his motorcycle. Summarily, though, Min-gyu is able to reclaim what he deems to be marital property.
     In their increasingly tender intimate relationship, Sun-hwa and Tae-suk never speak to one another; enrobing their love is the poetry of silence—as in a dream. It occurs to us that either soul may be imagining the other: Tae-suk, to assuage loneliness; Sun-hwa, for a gentle alternative to her brutal spouse.
     In jail, Tae-suk finally retaliates against his sadistic guard. He is taken from his cell, flanked by guards, each of whom locks an arm of Tae-suk’s in his grip. The trio’s walk away from the camera, down the corridor flanked by cells, is preceded by a swooping camera motion that leaves little doubt that Tae-suk is about to be monstrously beaten, possibly to his death. The next thing we hear is that Tae-suk has been released, but when he turns up back at Sun-hwa’s home only she can see him—delightfully, Min-gyu mistakes her declaration of love, meant for Tae-suk, as directed toward him—and there is no mark whatsoever on his face. Has Tae-suk’s spirit willed itself back from the grave? Is Sun-hwa fantasizing him? Regardless, she is happy that she is back together with him. Now, she can bear even her marriage.
     This sort-of romantic comedy veers, for a spell, into a sort-of horror film. It won Kim international critics’ prizes at Venice and San Sebastián, and the best film prize at Valladolid.

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