Movie Review: 3- Iron

3-Iron/Bin Jip/ Empty Houses

Filmmaker: Kim Ki Duk

This movie came out in 2004 starring Jae Hee as Tae Suk. He looks so very young in this movie it’s incredible. His co-star was Lee Seung Yun, currently participating in the drama Lights and Shadow.

This is one of the few movies that a non-korean speaker can understand – it’s almost completely silent.

The way the story is told reminds me of the magical-realism that abounds in latin american literature, where the world is not just ordinary, there is a heightened sense of the world, where what we see may or may not be reality as others know it. It is an intensely personal journey, it is art.

It is the presentation of two different and opposing views of the world: that of the invisible drifter, and then the one the rest of us hold.  It creates a distance between what is real and what is magic, thereby creating a distance between the viewer and the movie.

Tae Suk is a drifter who enters homes whose occupants have been gone for more than a day,  while he lives in the home of the unsuspecting hosts he fixes little gadgets, and even washes their clothing, like a payment of gratitude for their unwitting hospitality.

Tae Suks ‘invisible’ existence, is only made visible in the pictures he takes, it is his souvenir of the world. But is that a photo just that or is it a way to remind himself that he’s not really invisible, that he exists? 

During one such traipse into another’s home, he walks in the the home of former model Sun Hwa (Lee Seung Yeon) who’s been beaten and generally mistreated by her husband.  He is not aware of her presence at first since she stays hidden from him and watches him wordlessly.  When she ascertains that he won’t hurt her she makes herself known, he flees. However as he’s leaving he realizes that she’s extremely unhappy when she screams into the telephone speaker. He soon returns for her and ends up saving her from her abusive husband.

Together they do pretty much what Tae Suk had been doing for a great while alone. Though they speak not a word, they keep falling deeply into each other, until their isolation is reminiscent of the isolation that all couples feel even in the banal world. Where the couple can only see each other and everybody else is  now  “the other.”

the inevitable happens and they’re separated. She’s returned to the abusive home, and Tae Suk is sent to prison, what happens next is highly complex, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Tae Suk’s experience in the jail, is really interesting, does he truly manage to make himself invisible to the world? or is it merely his fantasy. However there is a warning at the end: we can never truly determine what is reality and what is a fantasy.

Underneath the quiet, introspective, melancholic tone of the movie, there is a strong undercurrent of violence. Ranging from the rich snob beating his wife,  a kid shooting at his mom with a toy gun (later on will he turn on her with a real one?), Tae Suk downing the rich snob with golf balls, a freak accident caused by Tae Suk’s golf ball, the punch from the boxer, the beatings in jail, the beatings from the rich snob. There is violence everywhere, even as Tae Suk appears to avoid it in his journey apart from the world, he’s in one way or another drawn to the violence.

Is the lesson in this movie the romance that goes beyond spoken language, into the language of the soul. Is it the fact that though each of us may try to escape the mundane banal world, we are essentially a part of it and one day we’ll feel it’s pull? I’m not sure, but what I am sure is that I think that it’s a movie that makes us stop and think, and take stock of our surroundings and create a world for ourselves.

Click here for  more Screencaps of the movie

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5 thoughts on “Movie Review: 3- Iron

  1. First reaction: Min did a movie review!!
    Final reaction: wow. I saw this movie listed in almost every top korean films of all time list. You did a great job of putting into words this seemingly complicated film. Very well-written and thought-provoking. I really wanna watch it now. Have added to my to-watch list.

    • I hope you do watch it, it’s definitely a thought provoking movie, and it’s no wonder it topped korean film lists.

      Yes, it’s been a long time since I wrote a true review, and not a recap. Hopefully I keep improving. Thank you for reading it!

    • You should definitely, definitely watch it Jawa! I love this film.

      I originally saw it at a screening at my uni’s film society. The girl who brought it said she had been flicking channels one night and had randomly come across it – somewhere in the middle of the film. She was so fascinated that she kept watching – because it’s that good.

      It’s that kind of film. You start watching it and it won’t let you go. And it’s so thought-provoking that it will stick with you afterwards (even if you end up not liking it).

      You should put it on top of your list!

  2. I love love love this film – it’s the kind of film I watch films for. (Coincidentally I reviewed it on my blog recently as well.)

    There is quite a bit of violence in it (and a sort of ambiguous message with that), but you have got to remember it is a Kim Ki-duk film. I haven’t watched anything else by him (yet), but apparently there is quite a bit of violence in all of his works and this one is supposed be ‘tame’ by comparison (there’s a film called ‘The Isle’, that is apparently very graphically violent, and one review I read said something like ‘there is a fish hook on the DVD cover… it’s not there for nothing’. NEVER watching that one!).

    Interesting thought that Tae Suk is made visible only in the pictures he takes. I think the whole idea of pictures in the film is rather fascinating and symbolic in itself, since pictures are never real: they are inverted imprints of ourselves, and they capture a moment that is then gone – in other words, the person in the picture isn’t a person that exists anymore, but someone from the past, something unreal. And then there is the whole issue of ‘doubles/copies’: pictures are copies, and we get mirror images (that scene when Sun Hwa sees Tae Suk, when he has ‘become invisible’, as a reflection in the mirror rather than his real self), reflections in puddles, shadows, etc.

    I’m didn’t interpret the ending as a warning though.

    • oh I like your thoughts about the pictures… I bought this movie just based on people’s comments about how good it was, and I’m glad I did, there’s so much you can mine from this film, and it’s a film that can make you discover different things the second third and fourth time watching it… I’m glad I have it to keep on exploring it later on.

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