3-Iron (Bin-jip) tells the story of a guy who spends his time breaking into and living in houses where he knows the owners are on vacation. He always cleans and tidies up the house, then leaves a token of appreciation behind. Inevitably he breaks into a house where someone is home, and I don’t want to say what happens next, but it’s magical. The director, Kim Ki-Duk, who directed one of my favourite movies from recent years, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, likes to create characters who develop relationships in a non-verbal manner — and he makes it work. The two main characters of this film don’t speak a single word to each other, yet we know exactly how they feel about each other. It’s pure fantasy, of course, but pure cinema, too, in that we’re drawn into the story, into the lives and feelings of the characters, simply by watching them be together. It’s magical and compelling and dramatic and tragic and funny, and I know I’m going to like this movie more every time I watch it. (The literal translation of Bin-jip is Empty Houses. I would have gone with that title instead of 3-Iron which is more likely to grab the attention of golf enthusiasts.)
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is a movie that doesn’t rush to get to where it’s going: A Buddhist monk and his young apprentice live alone on a houseboat in the middle of a lake surrounded by hills and forest. They sweep the floor, they read, they meditate, they row a boat to shore where they pick wild herbs for making soups and teas. Then one day someone drops by looking for spiritual guidance and things begin to change. I’m not sure if the story makes any kind of sense, especially from a Buddhist perspective, but it’s still a nice place to visit. From beginning to end, there might be 5 minutes of dialogue. It’s pure cinema. I love it.
I haven’t seen this film yet, and it’s highly unlikely to show up at a theatre in Newfoundland, but it is definitely on my list of must-see films. Kim Ki-duk is becoming one of my favourite directors. Here’s what James Berardinelli has to say about Time:
Haunting and disturbing, Time is the kind of motion picture that gets under your skin and doesn’t let go. It lingers long after the final credits have rolled and, for those who see it with friends, it will provoke endless post-movie discussions. A meditation on identity and how our physical appearance relates to who we are, Time is the product of the fertile creative mind of controversial (some love him, some despise him) South Korean director Kim Ki-duk. Like Kim’s previously seen international efforts (Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring, 3-Iron), this one takes a seemingly straightforward storyline and twists it to devastating effect during the final act. The result is a production of intellectual and emotional power. It’s nowhere close to conventional and aptly fits the term “challenging.”
At it’s core, Time is about love as well as identity. Love was a key theme in Spring Summer and 3-Iron. Kim does not judge the emotion, but lays out its positives and negatives. The film presents a balanced view of all aspects of the story by giving us access to both of the main characters’ mindsets (except during the final act, when it follows only one on an increasingly desperate search). With Time, Kim has fashioned one of his most compelling motion pictures to date. For those who appreciate movies that touch the heart and provoke brain activity (as well as requiring reading skills — this is subtitled), this is worth the effort that will be needed to find it.
I’ve been in complete agreement with Mr. Berardinelli’s reviews of both Spring Summer and 3-Iron, and I suspect in this case our tastes are right on track again.
UPDATE (Dec. 26/09): I saw it a while ago. It wasn’t as a good as I was hoping. Interesting, somewhat unsettling, but generally not too engaging. I’ve seen more of Kim Ki-duk’s movies, some of his earlier ones and now his latest; they lean more towards disturbing than serene. Spring Summer and 3-Iron seem to be exceptions.