Dir/scr/prod/ed: KimKi-duk. S Kor. 2004. 89mins.
An arthouse favourite,now firmly established after last year's Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter' AndSpring, Kim Ki-duk's reputation will be enhanced by his latest work, whichis less extreme but no less intriguing.
Coming only seven monthsafter Kim won Best Director at Berlin for Samaritan Girl, this sleek,elegant, stylised feature shows how the maverick director has had his ruffledfeathers smoothed down even more.
A strikingly good-lookinglove story that suggests social rebellion before turning into a super-naturalreflection on reality versus imagination, its festival future is firmly secureafter 3-Iron's reception at Venice, where it played as a surprise filmin competition. Commercial prospects seem better than they ever were for Kim'searlier films.
Tae-suk (Jae Hee) wandersaround the city on his motorcycle, pinning flyers on doors. After several dayshe comes back to check if they have been removed; if not then he concludes theowner of the flat is absent and breaks in, settling down comfortably as if itwere his own home. But his purpose is not to steal. Rather he washes up andeven fixes broken things he finds before disappearing just before the occupantsreturn.
One day he enters such ahouse without realising that one Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), a former model, nowbattered wife, is still in. Running away from her husband, she joins him as thepair roam around town from one unoccupied flat to another, gently embarking onan affair of their own.
Eventually they enter theflat of an old man who had passed away. Just as they complete the funeral ritesfor his burial, the deceased man's son returns and calls the police. Firstaccused of murder, Sun-hwa is released into the custody of her furious husband,who seeks not only sexual satisfaction from his wife but also revenge over theman who took her away, while Tae-suk is thrown into jail for breaking andentering.
At this point the storytakes an uncanny turn, leading to a satisfying end for those who believe in thepower of auto-suggestive imagination. The rest will remain pleasurablybewildered and utterly mystified by what they have seen.
Spare and economical, Kim'sfilm language evolves here into a finely tuned, imaginatively orchestrated,purely visual form of storytelling. The bright, sharp, luminous images ofmeticulously planned shots, combined with some stunning still photography,explained away by Sun-hwa's modelling past, require little, if any, dialogue tospin their tale.
Each of the sets is carefullydesigned, and every one of the apartments that the protagonists breaks into hasa very distinct character of its own, implying all we need to know about theunseen occupants living there.
Jae Hee's youthful toughnessand unwavering determination, coupled with Lee Seung-yeon's bruised fragilitycombine to portray a magical relationship in which words are unnecessary, atender, touching love story that is suitably accompanied by Slvian's warm,voluptuous Middle Eastern style of music.
Kim Ki-duk's painstakinginsistence that every detail on screen look perfectly solid and real is greatlyresponsible for the eerie feeling of the last act, which makes some farfetchedinterpretations. It is all reason enough to go back and watch the film again.
Prod cos: Kim Ki-duk Film, Happinet Pictures, chungeorahm Film
Int'l sales: Cineclick Asia
Prod des: Chung Sol Art
Main cast: Lee Seung-yeon, JaeHee