Kim Ki-duk's happily unhinged drama 3-Iron comfortably occupies the middle ground between his baroque thriller The Isle and his meditative Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring. The film shares strengths with its protagonist: a capacity to surprise and a tendency to meander, though the latter can also proves somewhat of a liability.
Tae-Suk is a young drifter who has developed an ingenious, though risky, method of living for free in a succession of comfortable homes that aren't his. Uninterested in theft or even freeloading, he explores possessions out of curiosity and takes photos of himself with the homes' decor, but does laundry and repairs, leaving the homes better than he found them.
One evening, the house he occupies isn't empty. The battered woman to whom he wordlessly bonds becomes his life partner, but fate has other plans for the casually reckless couple. Kim reflects contemporary lifestyles and attitudes with the succession of houses and apartments, which stand in stark relief to Tae-Suk's happy rootlessness; he also cultivates an air of mystique appropriate to the existential romance.
Kim moves his story from merely weird to bizarre, decorated with droll visual humor. The titular golf club becomes a weapon more than once, and a detour into a jail cell allows for a comic-mystical reconsideration of perception (as viewed through our limited line of sight). The permutations of fantasy and desire for salvation add layers of possibility to the otherwise stark narrative, though Kim's "liberated" embrace of a domestic abuser tests his audience's forgiveness.
Is the story supernatural? Is it a dream? In any case, it's a uniquely cracked romance made in a refreshingly direct style that minimizes dialogue and maximizes mood.
3-Iron looks at home on DVD in an impeccable transfer. Aside from nine nicely presented previews (2046, The Beautiful Country, Heights, Look At Me, Saving Face, YES, Saraband, November, and Layer Cake), the sole extra is a commentary with director Kim Ki-duk. Since Kim doesn't speak much English, the commentary is subtitled, making it a rare beast (in fact, you could view the commentary as a subtitle track while listening to the film's soundtrack).
The commentary will be invaluable to Kim's fans, as well as those baffled but intrigued by the film. With nearly no dead spots, the talkative Kim addresses the origin of his concept for 3-Iron, Korean architecture as a part of the film's character, budgeting and funding the film (and creative corner cutting), casting choices, and his thematic intentions. Kim also lets slip a few secrets of production; for example, the motorcycle in the film is his own, and he performs many of the driving shots.
The commentary (recorded only a day or so before my interview with Kim) also touches on his artistic approach: photographic strategy, minimalist dialogue, and shooting in sequence for maximum naturalism. Ranging even further, Kim comments on the nature of film itself, the Hollywood system, and preservation of minority culture; musings about his international appeal and lack of commercial success in Korea culminate in a confession that he's considering an early retirement. Summing up his style, Kim says, "They're not fancy, but the movies are honest and sincere, and that carries power to grasp people's attention."
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