By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
South Korea has gotten quite the reputation as an exporter of delightful, fully little romantic comedies fit for the whole family. This summer, Pieta will roll into theaters, and right into your hearts…
Nope, this is South Korean critically acclaimed fare, and furthermore, it’s from provocateur director Kim Ki-duk. Translation: it’s hella fucked up. Pieta is about a low-level enforcer, Gang-do (Lee Jeong-jin), who never fails to collect on a debt… because he forces clients to take out an insurance policy first, then cripples them and reaps the benefits if they can’t come up with the cash. One day a woman, Mi-son (Jo Min-soo), shows up claiming to be his mother, awakening strange feelings inside him. Yep, you take that last part pretty much any way you like.
The central duo deliver fine performances. Jo Min-soo gets to run the full gamut of tragedy, and while Lee Jeong-jin looks like a burnout Clash fan, he brings a real depth to his meathead role, especially when he begins to care for and believe in Gang-do.
He doesn’t brush his teeth, but he never forgets his eyeliner
Pieta is full of queasy sexual content and violence, which is interesting to the extent it contrasts the different ways people react to their impending doom, and how they mirror Gang-do’s state of mind. However, the film is at its best when it focuses on the relationship between its central characters and their unique psychology. There’s plenty to chew on here, and like Kim’s best films, stays in your mind long after it’s over. Oh, and in what is fast becoming a Korean thriller specialty, the ending is both surprising and twisted as hell.
The opening to the film, depicting a suicide in a rusty machine shop or meat locker, perhaps, looks like something out of Saw, complete with cheap-sounding disembodied scream. In fact, many of the stylistic choices feel like cheap horror, pulpy and derivative (although Slap-cam was kinda cool). The worst offenders are the quick handheld zooms he sometimes employs, which suck in home movies, much less feature films.
There’s a nasty sexual undercurrent to the film that I’ll actually defend as necessary to the narrative, adding an extra little Oedipal kick. However, there’s a rape scene that is utterly unnecessary to this thrust, and reads as nothing more than Takashi Miike-style gross exploitation, oddly disgusting, pretentious, and meaningless all at once.
This would’ve escaped with three beers if not for Mi-son’s last scene, in which she inexplicably explains her motivations out loud just in case you’ve been sleeping for the preceding ten minutes, or have never seen a movie before.
I is feel sad now
An uneven effort from Korean shock director Kim Ki-duk, but one that might stick with you longer than you realize.
Take a Drink: anytime anyone says shibal (fuck) or keseykia (bastard)
Take a Drink: anytime you wonder who’s crazier, “mother” or “son”
Do a Shot: for every contract fulfilled