South Korea’s Exploding film scene has a self-taught genius in Kim Ki-duk. His latest, “3-Iron,” may not be as painterly perfect as the earlier “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … And Spring,” but its amazing visual sense of living space is no less cinematic.
By Bob Strauss
Living space is also a major story theme, which Kim’s screenplay develops brilliantly, if with some unnecessary quirkiness. The soulful young actor Jae Hee plays Tae-suk, who travels around an unnamed city on a fancy BMW motorcycle. He hangs restaurant fliers on doorknobs, and if they’re still there after a day or so, Tae-suk breaks into the house and makes himself at home.
While the residents are away, he eats their food, uses their toothpaste and amuses himself with their gadgets. But Tae-suk also does their laundry, fixes broken items (not so helpful in the case of one family’s gun) and otherwise tries to earn his meager keep.
At one pricey address, Tae-suk encounters the battered lady of the house, Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon). Initially spooked, he flees. But when he watches her violent husband try to force himself on her, Tae-suk rescues Sun-hwa with some well-aimed golf balls. She gratefully joins Tae- suk on his oddball domestic odyssey and finds something that feels more like home in strangers’ dwellings than she ever experienced at her own posh digs.
At this point it should be mentioned that Tae-suk never speaks, and the first of very few sounds we hear from Sun-hwa’s mouth is a scream. As the plot unfolds – and there is much more to it than a series of uninvited visits and close calls with returning occupants – this feels more and more like an affectation. Kim pays off the conceit pretty satisfactorily, but by then some viewers will be irked beyond recovery.
Like most Korean films, “3-Iron” wallows in some pretty vicious brutality, both emotional and physical. At least Kim has come up with an interesting motif for much of the latter – no one has ever thought this deeply about golf as a contact sport, not even the guys who make Adam Sandler movies.
Like “Spring, Summer …,” though, “3-Iron” definitely has a forgiving, spiritual side as well. The way that’s presented might drive you as crazy as Tae-suk’s silent treatment does, but Kim commits to it with the same rigor and conviction with which he composes his powerful, resonant images. The guy’s an artist who probably couldn’t compromise his vision even if he knew how to – a sterling example of why it’s good to avoid film school if you possibly can.