I have seen the majority of Kim Ki-Duk’s films. He was one of the South Korean directors that first got me into the “Korean New Wave” some years ago. There is something to be said for his works, and no one could argue that his stories are creative, if not original. His films such as “Bad Guy”, “3-Iron”, “The Isle”, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Spring”, "Samaritan Girl" and “The Bow” had characters that barely talked, immersed in symbolism and the emotions were expressed through action that spoke a lot for its intended narrative. Kim’s films are different and he proved me it once more with “Dream” and “Time“, albeit I was a little disappointed with “Breath” and his experimental film "Real Fiction".
Winner of the top prize of several film festivals such as the “Golden Lion” award in Venice, as well as being the first Korean movie to win top honors in Vienna, Cannes and Berlin. “Pieta” is Kim’s 18th feature that he directed as well as written. Once again proving that he has the determination to be different even when he does something a little more standard, Kim’s “Pieta” is about a young man named Lee Kang-Do (played by Lee Jung-ji). Kang-Do is a heartless man who has no known family or friends and whose job is to threaten his clients’ debtors that requires 10x the amount of the loan. Kang-Do’s existence is the kind that he only exists to do a job, and collects the interest through insurance after he had crippled the debtor. One day, a woman (Cho Min-Su) pays him a visit and she claims to be his long-lost mother. Kang-Do denies such a possibility, and she relentlessly shadows him, and soon, he is moved by the display of motherly love expressed by this woman. Now, Kang-Do’s past are set to collide tragically with his future…
The magic of Kim’s films is just how he manages to express harsh reality or a way of life or emotion through the use of his screenplay. His screenplays are often rich with symbolism, that beautifully combines with violence and unnerving themes. He gave us a glimpse of the red light district, a twisted view of beauty, the cheating wife, atonement for sins and even how our dreams make us understand more and yet, see less. “Pieta” is rich with religious symbolism and highly sexual images may cause a lot of viewers to have rather mixed reactions. To appreciate the need for such elements in its narrative, one would have to accept that such things are highly plausible and that humanity has the capacity for such depravity. I mean, Kim had pushed the limits before, and “Pieta” does have a few scenes that had provoked a lot of controversy. In my opinion, such things are needed to advance the plot and for the viewer to further feel the emotions of its characters.
“Pieta” is a highly tragic film. It is the kind of film that the less you know, the better and yet it would undoubtedly be more for the esoteric few used to Kim’s many twists and turns in his writing. There are strong existential overtones and powerful themes of “Karma” (you reap what you sow) as Kim tries to show his viewers that such actions often have a consequence. It is a film about the many emotions that arise because of money; fury, greed, revenge, love and the feeling of a loss. It is different and very shocking, and the more you become immersed and invested with its characters then the more the power of its narrative would be. It is a twisted relationship that builds on one heartless man and a mysterious woman. The development of their relationship is one that is believable as both of them seemingly wants to ’feel’ and atone, and the careful methodology that Kim uses in his screenplay is just fantastic. Once you think that you had it figured it out, then one realizes that there is more to it than you first thought. Kim immerses his viewers with such careful manipulation that one could easily feel its shocking tragic turns.
What always made his films different and bold is the manner that he handles the chemistry between his protagonists. Kim’s writing brings characters that feel like real people, their interactions in their world appear very natural. He envelopes them with a certain amount of darkness while they struggle to find some light. Always nearly and sometimes achieving and yet, something remains beyond their grasp. Kim also knows how to pick his performers as Lee Jung-Ji and Jo Min-Su were able to come into the needed dramatic power in each scene. There is no doubt that Cho Min-Su stole the show, her eyes, her actions, and the way she spoke carried an enigma that aided in the film’s powerful writing and steady pace. Lee Jung-Ji sold the role of the heartless enforcer, that once could see and feel his development from ruthlessness into someone who cares. Kang Eun-Jin also made such a powerful impression as the wife of a man who had been crippled. Despite her limited screen time, she was fantastic and her role added a lot to the flow of emotions.
As with most of his films, Kim uses a cinematography that borders on minimalism and yet the shots come from an angle that almost simulates the feel of a fly on the wall, a ‘passing’ glance and of voyeurism. Close ups and wide shots are abundant, while some scenes were almost shot to mimic the view of the other character. Colors were a little subdued to give perhaps give the film a more depressing feel. This is a film where action and atmosphere played a lot in its narrative, Kim uses everything to dictate the way the viewer saw his sequences. Kim had definitely matured as a filmmaker and as a storyteller, one could easily see that he had improved his craft.
Kim Ki-Duk had done it once more, and surely this is a film that may be one of the best ones I’ve seen in 2013. It is magnificently paced and edited, with excellent performances that those two things alone surpassed all my expectations. Kim also presents several twists and turns, while not totally surprising, they were brought in with such an impeccable stroke that it made me feel for the characters’ own tragic lives. The ending is one that defined everything that the characters had brought to bear, and maybe it is indeed all about they have wrought. Darkness is often the absence of light, and once it had been illuminated, it is always darkest before its dawn. It is a cycle that Kim had presented, and one that he allows his audience to see into with their own ways.It is a disturbing, and yet beautifully honest film. Highly Recommended. [5- Out of 5 Stars]
Korean director Kim Ki-Duk goes a little more twisted in a conventional narrative. Last time I felt this much emotion and repulsed with the thought about revenge was when I saw OLDBOY some years ago. 'nuff said. See Full Review here