Rightwing Film Geek

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3-IRON (Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, 2004, 8)

An upgrade is very possible for this film, as it has been marinating wonderfully in my mind’s kino-eye, and the one flaw I thought 3-IRON had leaving the theater no longer seems like a problem, upon reflection. Take the basic style of Kim’s SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER … AND SPRING and THE ISLE (spare dialogue; archetypal characters; a plot as precisely segmented as a tangerine and almost as symmetrical). Only instead of a seasonal religious meditation or the latest act in the Korean Theater of Cruelty, make a mostly-silent absurdist comic parable. Much of the Buddhist recurrence in SPRING, etc., remains and so 3-IRON’s humor is mostly in the wryly amusing and serenely ironic category — like Tsai Ming-liang, only not as “boring” (or as stylistically radical).

In a series of short segments, drifter Tae-suk burgles a series of apartments — only he doesn’t steal anything, besides consume food and live in the home. He takes photos of himself in the homes — varyingly decorated according to the family in traditional Korean, modern Asian bourgeois, rich kitsch, bohemian and working class decors and he lives his vision of their lives for a few hours (and we come to think we know the families from their stuff and their pictures and seeing his squatting).

Oh … and he always does some gonzo stunt like do the family’s laundry, rig the scales, booby-trap a toy air gun. In one such burglary, battered wife Sun-hwa comes home unexpectedly and joins Tae-suk in his escapades. The “battle” for her affections between Tae-suk and her husband provides the strongest throughline for the rest of the episodic plot.

My one complaint is (or rather was) that the one prank the burglars play that goes seriously wrong — someone winds up dead, though it’s not exactly deliberate — is the one prank that is not atoned for, not rhymed nor ever comes full circle. But on reflection and prompting from (I think) Alex Fung, I decided that was really the point. The scene was more of a cosmic catalyst than a segment within the film’s schema, since it comes at approximately the midway point and splits the other pranks into “goes around” and “comes around.” The penance is done — a lot of it involving golf clubs (aside: Korean films seem to take a far more sanguine attitude toward what would unquestionably be considered police brutality in the West).

And in the end, the film takes a spiritual turn into invisibility that is just breathtaking because it’s both comic and sweetly moving. Everything by the end has more or less been righted because … well, just because that’s how the universe works.

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October 11, 2004 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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