19 August 2007

3-Iron (Bin Jip)

Written & Directed by: Kim Ki-Duk

Grade: A-

At 3-Iron (aka Bin-Jip)'s conclusion, a quotation on the screen declares that: "it's hard to tell whether the world we live in is a reality or a dream." While, personally, I have no misgivings in believing that my own existence is not some somnambulistic illusion, it's nevertheless an appropriate aphorism with which to conclude the film, a lyrical blurring of the line between actuality and fantasy, or at least literalism and poetic expression. Kim Ki-Duk deals in heavily symbolic cinema, which he handles with the grace of a master visual poet; while incredibly cynical about the state of modern romance—the majority of the relationships on the film's peripherals, as also in his subsequent film Time, are in turmoil—3-Iron is ultimately an optimistic film in that it believes in the abstract existence of love. The conflict arises as the struggle to discern whether or not it does, or can, exist anymore within the context of modern life.

Hyun-Kyoon Lee, the protagonist, spends his days engaged in the rather unpopular profession of leaving take-out menus on doorknobs; his real passion, however, his night job, is the even more unpopular enterprise of breaking into the homes of those he's determined, through the course of his waking hours route, to be on vacation. Curiously, however, he isn't an intruder for the sake of thievery; rather, he watches his "victims'" televisions, eats their food, uses their showers, launders their dirty clothes and tinkers with their busted gadgets. He's really more of an unsolicited housesitter, to little consequence until he breaks into the home of a crestfallen battered-woman, Seung-Yeon Lee (whom he doesn't realize is actually at home when he illegally enters); they begin a taciturn courtship that reaches its climax hours later when Hyun-Kyoon attacks the woman's abusive husband, Hyuk-Ho Kwan, by chipping golf balls at him, incapacitating him and liberating her; he takes her on the back of his motorbike, as though it were his steed, and they disappear into the dark of night, off to start their new life together as a trespassing twosome.

Essentially, the couple is meant to function as an anthropomorphic manifestation of true love, so pure that they never even speak (and thus never bicker), content merely to float silently from unoccupied house to unoccupied house, occasionally, but more not than often, exchanging knowing glances. In 3-Iron, "normalcy" becomes a tactile artifice, a construct that can be invaded, broken into, enjoyed briefly but ultimately abandoned. The romantic duo's unspoken mission becomes to produce something neat, clean and ordered out of the mess of other people's lives; they aim, presumably, to introduce a measure of purity into a thoroughly corrupted world, to be a private, contrapuntal force of love in a loveless society.

As a symbol of modernity's having gone astray (but from what exactly?), not only are so many people living in miserable complacency, just going through the motions of romantic relationships, but violence lurks in the film's margins, anticipating the moment it might destructively burst forth. For example, Hyun-Kyoon's recreative past-time consists of knocking around a golf ball tethered to a tree, a symbol of his own circular and repetitive life; when Seung-Yeon begins literally standing in his way, disrupting his game, it hints, perhaps optimistically, that she is altering the course of his existence; but when, in an attempt to adapt to her interference, the ball breaks free from Hyun-Kyoon and its restraints, an innocent bystander is seriously injured. The sequence functions as foreshadowing of the violence to come.

For Kwan isn't dead, he was only down; when his wife is returned to him by the police after the B&E duo is arrested, Kwan prepares for a violent showdown with Hyun-Kyoon (who spends his brief time in jail—they can't really hold him because he never stole anything, except maybe Kwan's woman—training to become an invisible, spectral figure.) The film's title refers to this love triangle, figuratively, as well as literally to the golf club responsible for the bulk of the film's violence. (As in Funny Games, golf functions as a symbol of the bourgeoisie that's viciously turned against them, but in 3-Iron, golf eventually transcends that limiting symbolism.) Whether 3-Iron is truly hopeful or not depends on how you choose to read its ending; I suppose it could mark the way in which true love survives all obstacles, or show how love dies in the face of modernity's oppressive institutions. Either way, it's beautifully beguiling.


Anonymous said...

You can't ever say "beautifully beguiling!" Cliche alert! No! No no no. Other than that, great job.

Anonymous said...

A masterpiece, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say "masterpiece" necessarily, but definitely a great film. Check out his latest, Time, also very good.

Anonymous said...

They haven't brought it in Greece yet. I'll be on the lookout.