Lee Seung-Yeon as Sun-hwa
Jae Hee as Tae-Suk
Kwon Hyuk-Ho as Min-Kyu
Joo Jin-mo as Detective Cho
Choi Jeong-ho as Jailor
Lee Joo-suk as Son of Old Man
Lee MI-Sook as Daughter in Law of Old Man
Moon Sung-hyuk as Sung-hyuk
Park Jee-Ah as Jee-ah
Jang Jae-Yong as Hyun-soo
A lovely and sublime romantic drama, sometimes strange but always riveting, that lets you use your own imagination about what is real and what is fantasy.
Tae-Suk (Jae Hee) is a quiet and lonely young man who breaks into people’s homes in order to live their lives for a short period of time, doing a bit of cleaning and then moving on to the next one. In one such home, he encounters a beautiful but battered woman (Lee Seung-Yeon) whose domestic life has fallen apart, and he decides to save her from her unhappiness, putting him into conflict with her husband.
After the slew of horror films coming out of Korea, it’s nice to see something a bit more based in the real world. That doesn’t mean that 3-Iron, the eleventh film in seven years from Kim Ki-Duk, is any less strange, but it does take a turn from the critically acclaimed Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring into a more relatable setting.
Set in the city during the present day in the city, the film’s premise of two lonely lives coming together by chance might seem simple at first, but there are complexities to the relationships between the characters that makes it a hard film to quickly summarize. Despite the name of the movie, there’s little that the story has to do with golf except that the film’s hero and his arch-enemy play the popular pastime, the one thing they have in common besides a woman.
The film has three distinct sections, the first showing Tae-Suk’s routine of putting menus on door knobs, then going back later to see which ones are still there so that he knows who is home and who isn’t. He breaks into the latter, cooking for himself, maybe taking a bath or shower, doing a bit of cleaning and washing clothes. He also sets up a prank so that the occupant knows he was there. We see this strange ritual a number of times in different types of abodes before he enters the house of Sun-Hwa, a model/actress who has obviously been physically and mentally abused. She goes into hiding and observes his routine, but when her husband returns home and starts threatening her, Tae-Duk becomes her silent knight, assaulting her husband with golf balls before taking her away on his motorcycle to join his routine.
After that brief change of pace, the second act is similar to the first, only Tae-Suk is now joined by Sun-Hwa. They get much closer as they try to live the lives of those who have left their homes unattended, but the break-ins gets a bit tedious except for the times when the occupants return home unexpectedly. Sun-Hwa’s husband tries to find them and get revenge on the young man who humiliated him. When the two nomads find an apartment containing a dead old man, they think it’s the perfect chance for them to settle down. Instead, they’re reported to the police, and Tae-Suk is accused of kidnapping her. Since neither will speak, the police assume he has mental problems and throws him into an asylum/prison, much to the delight of her angry husband.
Sure, it’s a rather strange journey, but what makes it so captivating are the two characters, because you wonder why they never talk and why they break into these homes and do what they do. Despite the lack of dialogue, their story and characters are intriguing due to the solid performances by Jae-Hee and Lee Sueng-Yeon. Simply using facial expression and actions, they’re able to full develop these characters and their emotions, something which would be a challenge for even far more experienced actors.
Some might find the film’s third act to be the most frustrating because it’s rather vague and many won’t understand what they’re watching. While in prison, Tae-Suk begins to master his skills at becoming invisible, playing games with a guard who gets more and more irritated. It’s not clear whether Tae-Duk has been let free or escaped, but he uses these new skills to haunt the old places that he visited with Sun-Hwa. She is still waiting for him to get out of prison, playing the happy wife in the meantime, which leads up to a wonderful ending that allows Kim Ki-Duk to try something quite clever and amazing to watch. After such a long build-up, some might expect something a bit more concrete or substantial, but it does allow you to use your own imagination about what you’re watching.
The Bottom Line:
Some might expect a lot more to happen in Kim Ki-Duk’s latest film, but his more subtle approach to storytelling and lack of dialogue will certainly throw people off. Ultimately, 3-Iron is another lovely and sublime film that you can enjoy for its simple premise, the characters, the lovely visuals or just the fact that you don’t have to read a lot of subtitles.
3-Iron opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.