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Overall Rating

Awesome: 26.09%
Worth A Look43.48%
Average: 30.43%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 11 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Plenty of interesting ideas, but not quite a full movie's worth."
3 stars

The modern world is crowded, busy, and filled with ways to identify or track its inhabitants. It would seem that the only ways to disappear in such a world are to go "off the grid", moving away from people and technology and records, or to fall "through the cracks", living on the street in a life of squalor and want. What the characters of 3-Iron recognize is that there are empty spaces; they just don't stay empty for very long.

Tae-suk (Jae Hee) owns very little; a motorcycle and the clothes on his back. Rather than sleeping on the street, he puts circulars on doorknobs, coming back a day or two later to see which ones haven't been removed; those, he reasons, are houses or apartments where the owner is out of town. A quick spot of breaking and entering later, and he's got a place to stay for a night or two. While he's there, he'll clean up, do the laundry, fix things that need fixing. One night, though, the place he chooses isn't empty; it's still occupied by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), a one-time model trapped in an abusive marriage. They intrigue each other, and when Sun-hwa's husband (Kwon Hyuk-ho) returns home, Tae-suk takes her with him, after pelting the husband with golf balls. Initially, Tae-suk tries to ignore this new addition to his life, but they inevitably find themselves growing closer.

We're never really told why Tae-suk chose to live like a ghost, or how long he's been doing it. He's skilled at being invisible, and another character mentions that Tae-suk is a college graduate; he could live a normal life. Sun-hwa has been bullied and beaten; there's at least a somewhat conventional explanation for her desire not to be seen, or to latch onto the man who stood up for her. I don't think it really matters why Tae-suk lives like this, so long as one feels that they can concoct a reason for it.

However, not digging into the reasons for the characters' behavior leaves writer/director Kim Ki-duk with a lot of space to fill despite the 95-minute running time. There's a fair amount of repetition as Sun-hwa and Tae-suk do the same thing a few times, without a whole lot of variation or new insight in each iteration. There's also a couple of scenes I just don't get, where Tae-suk either directly or indirectly causes someone grievous bodily harm (at the very least). It is, I think, playing on the idea that despite their best efforts to remove themselves from interactions with other people, from being an active participant in the world, they do have an effect. It's a strangely morbid way of making this point, though - if staying out of the way gets people killed, what does trying to help do? It's also difficult to read anything into it, because the viewpoint characters don't really react to it.

Kim's decision to not have his characters speak functions as a double edged sword. On the one hand, it adds to the surreal nature of the goings-on, and shows how skilled Jae and Lee are with the tools in an actor's arsenal other than the voice. It also emphasizes what a natural connection Tae-suk and Sun-hwa have, not just that neither of them are big talkers even though those around them often are, but because they don't need to speak to know and understand each other. They're able to reach that rapport so rapidly. As natural as that feels during the first half of the film, though, it ceases to be so toward the end, when they're spending a lot of time interacting with other people, and this conceit suddenly seems false and contrived, after seeming so natural before.

The movie is, ultimately, about running and hiding, and seems unusually supportive of that as a way of handling trouble. When Sun-hwa's husband returns toward the last act, it's frustrating for the audience to watch Sun, because her reaction gives the impression that she hasn't grown at all; that when faced by adversity, the way to deal is to communicate less, to hide better. This may just be the perspective of an American watching a film made for a Korean audience. I can't be sure of that; the style of the film seems off-beat enough that the "message" is deliberately perverse. Of course, it's probably a mistake to try and take something universal away from a movie about characters who act in such a peculiar manner. Still, if the story's not supposed to be universal, shouldn't the be characters be more defined?

There are some neat ideas in [i]3-Iron[/i], and the mostly-silent performances are well worth a look. Kim stretches those ideas too far at times, though, and the movie doesn't live up to its potential.

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originally posted: 06/02/05 11:07:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/17/08 Phil M. Afficiando Beautifully filmed but too odd and fantastic for my tastes. Creepy even 3 stars
10/20/06 K.Sear Despite a few weakly scripted areas, the beauty of the characters' relationship shines. 5 stars
8/06/06 Gail Gasram Entertaining; no kung fu, no car crashes, just drama, strange, even memorable. 4 stars
9/06/05 jairo viafara Beautiful. A good look at several neighbourhoods in a Korean city. The photo is terrific. 4 stars
5/30/05 Frank Beautiful and captivating; funny; haunting 5 stars
5/23/05 mihai monumental. 5 stars
5/08/05 DM Very, very bizarre, but funny and oddly touching. 4 stars
9/27/04 James Fantastic! 5 stars
9/20/04 denny interesting view of korean slacker; creative use of golf and eastern philosophy 5 stars
9/14/04 Aimee Coueslan Funny. sad. Beautiful. Magical. See this film! 5 stars
9/13/04 J. Anderson Saw this by chance... what a delightful surprise! 4 stars
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  29-Apr-2005 (R)
  DVD: 06-Sep-2005



Directed by
  Kim Ki-Duk

Written by
  Kim Ki-Duk

  Jae Hee
  Lee Seung-yeon

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