Judge Joel Pearce wishes this disc were muscleback instead of cavity back, but still found it did the job from around 175 yards.
"Hey, it's weird. It feels like someone's here."—Homeowner
Ambiguous and thought-provoking, 3-Iron is one of those films that some people will love and others will find dull and pointless. Few will deny that it's one of the most unique films in recent memory, though, as Kim Ki-duk has once again taken a simple premise and turned it into a deep, challenging work.
Facts of the Case
Tae-suk (Hee Jae), a young loner, breaks into houses while their owners are on vacation, repaying them by cleaning and repairing broken items. He lives the life of a ghost, nearly invisible as he wanders from place to place. He is mute, though it is unclear whether this is by affliction or choice.
One of the homes that Tae-suk arrives in is not empty. He doesn't notice that Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee, Again) is there. She is an abused wife, and after Tae-suk rescues her from her husband, she begins to travel with him. They are both happy with this silent arrangement, but such a strange life cannot last forever.
Finding something to say about 3-Iron is a challenging thing. The plot description is necessarily short because it's not a complex story and I don't want to spoil the ending. At the same time, with the film's almost complete lack of dialogue, there isn't much to discuss in terms of the characters either. There is a strange, dreamlike quality to 3-Iron, that suggests it is not meant to be taken literally. Both Tae-suk and Sun-hwa are, to an extent, invisible people. Since they don't speak to each other, there are a number of questions left unanswered. Why does Tae-suk choose this lifestyle? What is he running away from? If Sun-hwa's pictures are in so many people's houses, does her past modeling career have anything to do with the horrible life she now lives? As the film proceeds, more questions are added to this list but few answers are to be found.
One thing is certain: Both Tae-suk and Sun-hwa would be invisible if they had the choice. There is something appealing about the life that they lead: Dwelling in someone else's house for a short time, living with their things, briefly becoming them. For those of us who look curiously at houses as we pass by, wondering what they look like inside, this life would satisfy our voyeuristic tendencies. Perhaps he breaks into people's homes for the same reason that people surf or go skydiving. It's a risky life, one that could become very dangerous with no notice. Sun-hwa's reasons for this life are different. She is a wounded housewife, and Tae-suk offers her a domestic relationship with constant excitement, tender affection, and no yelling. It is an escape for her, and one that she is glad to take.
Throughout the film, we get to join in on this exploration of houses. We learn about their owners through the items that they own. Some of the people seem happy and some don't, but each house is the home of someone who has a complete and complex life. I often find that fact mind-boggling as I look at a swarming city. Every one of the apartments in a large building has people living in it with their own problems, their own worries, their own relationships. I've never seen a film that has tried to capture that before, and Kim Ki-duk does a fine job of showing lives through objects.
The two lead performances are also exceptional, especially considering the lack of dialogue. When so much of the film depends on the wordless communication between the two leads, it is crucial that they are able to understand each other. Both actors nail this, using small gestures and facial expressions to tell each other (and us) everything they want to say.
Sony has released 3-Iron on an attractive but bare disc. The video transfer shows some dirt at times, but is otherwise excellent. The colors are good and there is plenty of detail in the shadows. The audio is pleasing as well, and although there is little dialogue or music, the ambient noise is rich and clear. The only extra on the disc is a subtitled commentary track from Kim Ki-duk, who sounds much more pleasant and warm than his films would suggest. He discusses the technical filmmaking process more than the film itself. It is an interesting track for would-be directors, because he is able to make impressive films on a very small budget.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some people won't find the concept of slipping in and out of other people's lives appealing at all. Like all of Kim Ki-duk's films, many people will find it obtuse and opaque, wondering why anyone would bother watching something so ambiguous and frustrating. In all honesty, it is unclear at times, and even veteran art film viewers will probably need some thinking time afterwards.
Reviewing films that follow a familiar template is easy. It's simply a question of determining how well it lives up to expectations. Placing number values on films like 3-Iron, that deliberately defy all expectations, is nearly impossible. I won't recommend that everyone rush out and buy a copy of this film. Some people probably shouldn't even rent it. That said, it's a film that the adventurous shouldn't pass up. It is completely fresh and new, and that's a praise I don't get to write often enough for this site.
3-Iron is a powerful, subtle and challenging film.
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