Saturday, September 10, 2005

3-Iron (Kim, 2004)

Early on in Ki-Duk Kim’s latest philosophical gem, 3-Iron, a young man stands with his motorcycle as an older man pulls his expensive car out of his garage. Before he drives away, he stops, stares at the young man and holds his gaze for a few seconds. The young man, we will soon find out, spends his entire life trying not to be seen. While homeowners are away on vacation, he sneaks into their homes and spends the night, helping himself to their food and clothing, but never stealing anything and even taking the time to do laundry before he goes.

However, at one house, the tables are turned, as he fails to notice a young, beautiful woman cowering in a corner, presumably not long after being physically abused. She observes him and watches his stealthy routine. She penetrates his ghostlike existence and, not coincidentally, reveals herself at a moment where feels confident that he has the utmost privacy.

Initially, it seems as if the young man will be content to disappear into the night. His goal seems to be to live an existence entirely free of the ordinary earthly concerns that weigh us down. Without rent payments, numerous material possessions or even personal relationships, he able to stay mostly weightless and invisible. This time, however, something is different. This time, he must get involved.

After a confrontation with the woman’s husband, the young man does the best he can to absorb the woman into his lifestyle. She shares his desire to disappear, his desire to remain detached, his desire to stay silent. But as the chemistry between them churns, they inevitably create something between them (love?) that is tangible and substantial. More and more often, they find themselves caught by the homeowners. There is violence, both intentional and unintentional. There are accidents. There is even death.

For me, the message of 3-Iron, is this: to ‘live’ is to necessarily have an impact on the world around you. Every action we take has a resulting consequence. Grabbing impulsively and recklessly for those things that we desire creates a dramatic ripple in the world and that ripple can have a nasty karmic backlash. On the other hand, to live without desire, completely detached from our world, is not to live at all. Instead, Kim suggests a third option – a life lived with supreme focus, concentration and direction. A life that allows us to tread lightly on the planet without feeling as if we were never here.

In Ki-duk Kim, I feel that we are watching a filmmaker in the midst of a remarkable period of productivity. His films are not only entertaining and sensual, but also highly instructive without being didactic. He is willing to approach life’s deepest questions and offer insights that take into account the ugliness and pain that exist in the world, but are never weighed down with moody pessimism. With the simplest of plots and just a smattering of dialogue, he creates films capable of moving us substantially and inspiring valuable self-analysis. 3-Iron is another rewarding entry into his filmography and, for the time being, takes over the distinction of best film I have seen this year.



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