3-Iron (2004)

Review #1,132

Director:  Kim Ki-duk
Cast:  Lee Seung-yeon, Lee Hyun-kyoon, Kwon Hyuk-ho
Plot:  A transient young man breaks into empty homes to partake of the vacationing residents' lives for a few days.

Genre:  Drama / Romance / Crime
Awards:  Won Best Director, FIPRESCI Prize, Little Golden Lion, SIGNIS Award (Venice).
Runtime:  88min
Rating:   NC16 for some sexual content.

“It's hard to tell that the world we live in is either a reality or a dream.”

In one of the most unique screen experiences I had in many years, 3-Iron is an affirmation of the medium of cinema as an essential tool for artistic and philosophical expression.  As I watched 3-Iron, I thought to myself: what transpired in the film wouldn’t have been expressed in any other medium as effectively or efficiently as cinema. 

As far as I'm concerned, this is pure cinema.  With almost two decades of works behind him, it is fair to say that 3-Iron is one of Kim Ki-duk’s more restrained pictures.  It is also one of his best.  Normally a provocateur, 3-Iron is akin to an antithesis of what Kim is all about.  I would even describe the film as blissful.  Yet, it bears the unmistakable stamp of Kim’s recurring themes.

It is hard to review this film without giving too much away, so I will try to give you a sense of what the film is about, not so much in terms of plotting, but rather of its nature.  There are three characters – an abusive husband, his tortured wife, and a transient young man. 

The latter is obsessed with entering people’s homes while they are away on vacation.  He uses the home’s facilities, but also helps to repair faulty equipment, clean their windows and tidy up the place.  He also takes selfies at a time when selfies weren't all the rage.  Most importantly, he doesn’t steal – and perhaps this is key to understanding his principles and values, as flawed as they may be. 

Spirituality is the core essence of Kim’s film, and I leave you to discover how Kim expertly weaves a tapestry of thought-provoking, sometimes metaphysical visuals and ideas that are encased in what appears to be a corny romance movie.  Elements of Buddhism – enlightenment, the state of mind, and the symbiotic nature of thought and action – are our footholds of logic in Kim's strange, visual mystery. 

There is literally no dialogue between the two leads – the woman and the young man.  Yet, 3-Iron is illuminating in its exploration of desire, (the lack of) motivation, and perhaps our suppressed violent tendencies.  There is a song that keeps repeating in the film, a kind of tranquil, meditative piece that sets this parable in the right kind of tone, one that is very much essential for the third act to function without the need for Kim to explain what he is doing. 

3-Iron is masterful filmmaking, and I feel very deserving of the four awards it won at the Venice Film Festival, including the prestigious Silver Lion for Best Director.

Verdict:  A blissful, metaphysical, but ultimately thought-provoking visual mystery exploring romance and existence in a manner never experienced before.


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