I used to post foreign film reviews on the now defunct Examiner.com. I’ll start to make some of those reviews available here to preserve them online.
Kim Ki-Duk’s 3 Iron (Bin-jip, which I believe translates as ‘Empty Houses,’ but ‘3 Iron’ is equally appropriate for reasons I won’t spoil) (South Korea, 2004) is a very quiet but involving film that starts out as a light realist drama, progressing into a delicate love story, and concluding as a magical-realist fable. A young man (Hee Jae, who has done other films as Lee Hyun-kyoon) hangs restaurant menu flyers on people’s doors in a large Korean city. Flyers that are undisturbed for a few days let him know that the homes are empty for a short while, and enable him to use these homes as crash-pads. He sleeps, eats, showers, and invariably does something nice for the absent occupants – hand-washes their laundry, waters their plants, fixes broken bathroom scales or wall clocks. Watching a businessman leave his home one morning, he assumes the place is deserted for the day. But unbeknownst to him, the man’s wife is still there (Lee Seung-yeon), and she surreptitiously watches him go through his careful, tidy routine. When she finally allows herself to be discovered, he learns that her marriage to the man is miserably abusive. The husband comes home early to check on her, but the young man thwarts his attempts to start in on her again, and they flee together. She now accompanies the young man on his daily routine of hanging flyers and living in other people’s homes.
The young man will probably strike audiences as a little creepy at first, but Kim makes it clear very quickly that the young man is delicate and respectful. And the variety of the homes that the new, remarkably silent, couple visit becomes a little treatise on middle-class life in the Korean city: a married couple who keeps a small studio-garden with a beautiful and fragile tea service in their small living room; a photographer’s studio where, it turns out, the woman has posed for pictures herself; a boxer’s bachelor pad; an apartment belonging to a family’s grandfather. Eventually they are caught by the police; the woman must return to her husband, and the young man is incarcerated. But this episode, rather than being the end of things, propels the story into a far more abstracted, dreamlike and hopeful new beginning.
Kim makes gorgeous movies; he’s ably assisted here by cinematographer Jang Seong-back, but it’s clearly Kim’s vision. The only other film of his I’ve seen is ‘Breath (Soom),’ another modest but lovely effort with an intriguingly original story and a bold visual narrative. He’s apparently made a few films that run closer to the ‘new’ Korean genre traditions of dark psychology and explicit violence, but he’s best known for hypnotic, evocative and minimal gems like this.