Friday, 5 August 2011



* * * * * *

2004 - South Korea/Japan (Kim Ki-duk Film/Cineclick Asia)

DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk
SCRIPT: Kim Ki-duk
PHOTOGRAPHY: Seong-back Jang
MUSIC: Slvian

This was exactly what I was waiting for and what I was hoping for when I started the blog. Yes, it is great to get the opportunity to write a few words about the films I already know and love. Even more when I have to wade through choices I neither agree with nor even understand. But the ultimate prize is a discovery. Stumbling upon a film I most likely would have overlooked otherwise, and which would be a revelation, something to blow me away, sweep me of my feet and ascertain my my view in what the cinema should be about: telling stories and making us forget about the real world for as long as the film lasts. 3-IRON does both in a most superb way. It's been a while since I got charmed by a film so much and to be honest, I don't expect jewels like this one to wait for me behind every corner. But it's so good they still there and no matter how much older I get, no matter how many films I've seen, there is still something there to surprise me in that fresh and totally unpretentious way. And here's why:

I do have a little bit of the background knowledge here. I mean, I'm not an expert, far from it. But I know my Akira, I got into some infernal affairs with an oldboy or two, I visited some houses of flying crouching dragons and even had a drink once with a real hero. Hell, I've even done some oriental studies, since we're at it and with all that in mind I braced myself for Ki-duk's offering.

I was silly.

More than one I've stressed here, on this blog, that what's incredibly important for a film is the universality of the story. Not the matter, not necessarily the plot, but the way it's told. This is the greatest secret behind the success of Hollywood made films, after all. They make millions of dollars across the world not because they're all stupid and simple, as many people like to think, but because no matter what story they tell, they do it in such a way, than even a farmer from China or Inuit seal hunter can watch the film and at least in some part relate to it. And the genius of Kim Ki-duk lies in the fact that he understands this simple truth beautifully. Of course, it doesn't mean that there is 3-IRON the feel, the spirit and the magic of Asian cinema is lost. On the contrary. Let's start with some obvious things, like every day life and lifestyles, which are not only an element of the background but also give a context to the main characters' actions. Alongside Hyun-kyoon Lee's character, Tae-suk, we take a peek at a number of apartments, flats and houses, at freeze-framed people's lives, which for us, Westerners, also paint picture of Korean reality. But that's just the setting, the backdrops and the props. When it comes to characters, to the plot, we go much, much deeper. Some critics pointed out that Ki-duk seems to blend in 3-IRON reality with a dream but I think they got it wrong. It is natural to us, materialistic barbarians from the West to assume, that everything unreal and irrational, unless clearly branded 'Faerie Land' must be a form of oneirism. But Eastern cultures don't work like that. There doesn't have to be an explanation in the first place. And also, we're talking very spiritual cultures here. Whereas in European culture religion, folklore, philosophy and materialistic reality are completely separate, different worlds, in Asian tradition very often they merge and intertwine into one, holistic world (or shall we say idea, concept of a world) in which all elements are equally real. And for that reason I would expect it to be far more natural for Ki-duk to transgress the boundaries of what we, Europeans would consider reality, into the spiritual, philosophical realm rather than the dreaming. As interpretations go, this is still not much more than guessing but I think I may have a case here. Especially when we look at the whole film, not just the ending, which the critic I've read was referring to. Whether it's Tae-suk on his own or later, with Sun-hwa, their behaviour, their presence is far too poignant not to draw conclusions. My first reaction was to think of them as ghosts, as they visit other people's places but don't come into any contact with them. Yes, they do 'invade' places while their owners are away but also because of that we get a strong feeling of looking at two parallel worlds. What pushed me in that direction even further is Tae-suk's (and later Sun-hwa's also) modus operandi. First, I was just proud of myself to spot a pattern but that pattern soon became somehow familiar. And once you see it, it becomes too obvious to be coincidental. It's really difficult not to see in their behaviour that of the sprites, house elves or faeries. Of course, this is still nothing more than my interpretation, but as I said before, the case seems to be strong. It would also make sense when you consider the twist in the ending, when the divide between the materialistic world and the spiritual one becomes even thinner than my metaphors.
And also, to be honest, this way the 3-IRON becomes even more beautiful and deeper. The dream/reality idea is a plain and lazy one, it lacks finesse that this film most certainly has in true abundance.

I would love to say more and this film definitely deserves a longer entry but I simply cannot carry on without revealing too much. 3-IRON has to be enjoyed as a journey through discovery, knowing too much will inevitably kill the whole pleasure of seeing it for the first time. The only one more thing I'd like to add here is that yes, as I've already said, there is a twist at the end but don't expect a M. Night Shyamalan's kind of twist.  It's not a one-off, knowing the ending will not spoil your pleasure of watching it again and again. I know I'll watch it!

P.S. Oh, and did I mention that throughout the whole film, the main character... nah, I'm not going to tell you even that.

P.P.S. The English title is pants. Korean title means (apparently) 'empty house' which makes much more sense. Yes, the golf club also plays a role, but come on!

Rent it from LoveFilm
Get it on AMAZON

Previously on 1001 FILMS TO SEE AND NOT DIE: The 39 Steps - Alfred Hitchcock, 1935
Next on the list (and I'm NOT looking forward to this somehow): 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) - François Truffaut, 1959
and after: 42nd Street - Lloyd Bacon, 1933

No comments:

Post a Comment