Produced by KIM Ki-duk
Cast: LEE Seung-yeon, JAE Hee, KWON Hyuk-ho, JOO Jin-mo, CHOI Jeong-ho.
A poetic film with a lyrical, whimsical dream-like quality, 3-Iron is the eleventh film of Korean director Ki-duk Kim. The originality and imaginative freshness of his films garner acclaim at festivals, and include the contemplative Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring of 2003.
Tae-suk (JAE Hee) is a unique sort of urban nomadic gypsy, a serial squatter/caretaker in the empty homes of others. Riding his motorcycle around the residential areas of the city, presumably
In one house, abused wife Sun-hwa (LEE Seung-yeon) has so minimised her presence that for some time he doesn’t realise she is there as he bathes, launders, fixes the broken scales. Suspicious and afraid, she watches him silently, then feeling safer, reveals herself. In shock, he is leaving when an abusive phone call from her husband (KWON Hyuk-ho) lets him know her situation. After a while he returns and so does the husband. A violent episode involving golf balls and a 3-iron golf club ensues – though all is done with the same unhurried, methodical pace - and he leaves again, this time taking Sun-hwa with him.
They’re soon a team, taping up pamphlets on doorways. Their relationship gently blossoms to an unforced and tremulous happiness. Then an unfortunate occurrence lands Tae-suk in jail for murder, breaking and entering and theft, and Sun-hwa is returned to her domestic prison and her abusive husband. From this point the film becomes dreamlike, as Tae-suk employs his imagination creatively to find a way back to his beloved Sun-hwa, and Sun-hwa has found enough confidence within to stand up to her abuser. What may be the premise of the film is a caption at the end:
It’s hard to tell whether the world we live in is reality or a dream.
Because the film is so deceptively simple, it’s stunning. It has the carefully-wrought harmonious proportions and subtly enhanced natural beauty of a Japanese garden where the reflective surface of a pool reveals glimpses of hidden life in its depths as well as limitless sky. Themes of freedom vs. coercion, real-life and ghost-life, creative nurturing vs. destruction are repeated in understated variations throughout.
Of the many extraordinary elements, perhaps the most striking is that the main protagonist speaks not one word during the entire length of the film. Sun-hwa speaks only three words, at the end. The more ‘normal’ characters speak, argue or yell abusively, usually when there is some lack of understanding. The police, the prison guard, and the husband find Tae-suk’s and Sun-hwa’s silence threatening. Only those in a Zen-like perfect harmony with themselves and with their environment, performing nurturing, caring tasks around their house, are not threatened, while Tae-suk and Sun hwa are shown as understanding each other without need of words.
All Tae-suk’s actions are performed with harmonious light and clarity and an evident loving purpose. Everything he does acknowledges his environment and people with respect and appreciation – except when he acts as a force for natural justice righting a wrong, or when a playful action of his accidentally causes harm, to his horror and distress.
The cinematography is perfect, each frame simple and powerful. The lighting and the shadows, the balance of colours, shapes, textures and the many examples of photographic art on the walls of the empty houses, show the eye of an artist and a visual poet. Moody piano and violin music and a melancholic female vocalist deepen the significance of segments of the film otherwise done in complete silence.
The gentle humour of the final scenes is sweetly original and uplifting in the way it highlights the power of love and the creative imagination.
© Avril Carruthers 6th May 2005
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