Recently Asian films, South Korean ones in particular, have been overflowing the British film market. Having said that, there’s one remarkable director, whose specific directorial style, often criticized for the excessive brutality and misogyny, drew my attention and it always will, his name is Kim Ki-duk.
The first time I came across Kim Ki-duk’s film was a few years ago when I saw Seom (The Isle). Seom was very difficult to watch and almost cost me a heart attack due to a few gruesome scenes. I needed one year break before going back to my DVDs and watching his other work. I ended up seeing Real Fiction, Address Unknown and Bad Guy. After watching those three films I thought: is Kim Ki-duk going to take on a task of making a different movie? Yes he did! He directed a beautiful, quiet and contemplative one, which was significantly different to his previous films, entitled Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Winter. And what a great treat it was. However, it didn’t take long for Kim Ki-duk to go back to his contentious writing style. He, yet again, brought intense and striking films to big screen such as Samaritan Girl, Breath, Time and a few other memorable ones. Honestly speaking, the filmmaker slowly grew on me and I always wait impatiently for his new projects. So you can only imagine my reaction when I saw Pieta on the big screen again, Kim Ki-duk’s 18th feature film.
Pieta’s story is about the daily activities of Kang-do’s life – a man involved in maiming debtors, who after dealing with injured people, would take the money they get from health insurance for so called “accident at work”. Everything goes according to plan until one day, when a modest middle-aged woman with blood-red lips, appears in front of his door, posing as his mother. For this soulless and sadistic “gangster” it is a situation in which he is placed against the wall. But this is only the beginning.
While watching the film I couldn’t decide how to digest what I see on the screen. Until the protagonist decides to visit his previous victims. He made them unable to work, he made them crippled, left them without the will to live and unhappy in their families, not being able to withstand their uselessness they decide to commit suicide. It may sound weird but I perceived this whole situation as something out of a fairy tale, a parable, when the villain has to face the consequences of his actions. And this is all because of Kang-do’s meeting with his, never seen before, mother. The relationship between those two is certainly filled with profound emotions. There are also background stories, the kaleidoscope of Kang-do’s victims. You’ll find a dodger loser, who pours his frustrations out on his girlfriend and a loving son who wants a quiet and carefree life for his mother.
Pieta is a marvelous film about revenge, anger and agony. I must admit that vengeance in Asian cinema has always been superbly shown. I absolutely enjoyed watching the film, however, it wasn’t an artistic one. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of symbolic shots.
When it comes to acting I was blown away by the mother’s character played by Cho Min-soo, who beautifully portrayed an internally torn individual whose facial expressions and gestures were the character’s greatest assets. Lee Jung-jin’s performance was impeccable. I can’t describe it in a few words, it would have to be an essay. He was perfectly cast for the role of the brutal and cold blooded debt collector.
Pieta is not a movie for everyone. It will be rejected by those looking for an easy entertainment, or even a conventional drama, but nonetheless I urge you to pay attention to Kim Ki-duk’s film. I can definitely tell you that from the very beginning Kim Ki-duk grabs the viewers by the throat and he keeps a great tone to the very end of the film. You will also understand the Pieta title when you finish watching the movie.
Written by Maggie Gogler
All photos © NEW (South Korea) & Drafthouse Films (United States)