After a career focusing on outlaws and sexual violence, nobody would have expected Korea's most poetic auteur, Kim Ki-duk, to make a film about golf, indeed, this isn't the sort of golfing film most fans of the sport are used to, despite the hero's obsession with it. This hero is a young man whose way of life consists of breaking into other people's houses, eating their food, sleeping in their beds, listening to their music... and doing their laundry and watering their plants.

One day, however, he breaks into a house where somebody else is already hiding. As he spies on the lives of others, the beautiful Sun-hwa spies on him. But Sun-hwa is in trouble. In a scene reminiscent of Blue Velvet, the hero watches secretly whilst her husband beats her. Feeling compelled to take action, he acquires a partner for his adventures, and the two of them embark on a dangerous course which seems to lead them further and further away from reality.

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3-Iron is unmistakably a Kim Ki-duk film, most notably because its hero doesn't speak a single line; its heroine only has one, when the story is almost done. Despite this, the communication between them is intense, written into every tiny gesture and action. Often music says what the characters cannot. The narrative is strange and vibrant, full of humour and the sort of horror which comes from watching people get themselves further and further into trouble.

There's visceral horror here too, as several characters suffer brutal beatings and observe the almost incidental horror present in everyday events in the world around them. Yet this is as hauntingly beautiful as all the director's work, every shot precisely textured and illuminated, the cinematography breathtaking. It's an interesting format through which to peer into the lives of ordinary Korean families. The hero is not picky about the wealth or social class of those whose homes he borrows. All the sets are superbly detailed, so that there are many more personal stories here than just those of the central characters. Every incidental character is fully rounded, and even the violent husband enjoys some opportunity to redeem himself.

Of course, many cinema-goers will find the idea of sitting through an hour and a half of film whose central characters don't speak to be rather off-putting; yet this is, in many ways, Kim's most accessible work. Though it can be difficult to keep watching during more intense scenes, neither these nor its subject matter are as distressing as in Bad Guy or The Isle. The central romance draws on strong chemistry between the actors and will, for many people, be sufficient reason for watching in itself.

Its greatest strength is its dream-like surreality, which enables it to transcend ordinary expectations. Just as the hero's intrusions into other people's lives can leave them distressed because they are also intrusions into their way of life, this is a story which challenges what we accept as real or realistic. This is a film with a great deal to say.

Reviewed on: 04 Apr 2009
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3-Iron packshot
The silent love affair between a battered wife and a respectful intruder.
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Read more 3-Iron reviews:

Anton Bitel ****
Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Writer: Kim Ki-duk

Starring: Lee Seung-yeon, Hyun-kyoon Lee, Kwon Kyuk-ho, Ju Jin-mo, Choi Jeong-ho, Lee Mi-suk, Moon Sung-hyuk

Year: 2004

Runtime: 2004 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea, Japan


Sundance 2005

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