ContactSales: Finecut, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: Venice Film Festival (Competition), 4 Sep 2012. Theatrical release: South Korea, 6 Sep 2012.
Presented by Kim Ki Duk Film (SK), in association with Next Entertainment World. Produced by Kim Ki Duk Film (SK). Executive producers: Kim Ki-duk, Kim U-taek. Producer: Kim Sun-mo.
Script: Kim Ki-duk. Photography: Jo Yeong-jik. Editing: Kim Ki-duk. Music: Park In-yeong. Music supervision: Park In-yeong. Production design: Lee Hyeon-ju. Art direction: Jang Mi-seon. Costumes: Ji Ji-yeon. Sound: Jeong Hyeon-su, Lee Seung-yeop, No Yun-ju, Yeo Ye-seong. Visual effects: Im Jeong-hun (Digital Studio 2L). Additional photography: Kim Ki-duk.
Cast: Jo Min-su (Jang Mi-seon), Lee Jeong-jin (Lee Gang-do), Wu Gi-hong (Hun-cheol), Gang Eun-jin (Myeong-ja, Hun-cheol's wife), Jo Jae-ryong (Tae-seung), Lee Myeong-ja (old woman), Heo Jun-seok (Gang-cheol), Gwon Se-in (guitar man), Song Mun-su (fallen man), Kim Beom-jun (Myeongdong man), Son Jong-hak (boss), Jin Yong-ok (wheelchair man), Kim Seo-hyeon (old woman), Yu Ha-bok (container man), Seo Jae-gyeong (kid), Kim Jae-rok (monk), Lee Won-jang (Sang-gu), Kim Sun-mo (Jong-do's neighbour), Gang Seung-hyeon (neighbouring shop owner), Hwang Sun-hui (old woman).
2012, colour, 1.85:1, 103 mins
Directed by Kim Ki-duk (김기덕 | 金基德)
By Derek Elley
Sat, 08 September 2012, 11:40 AM (HKT)
Blackly ironic tale of a debt collector's redemption puts director Kim Ki-duk back on top. Festivals, plus limited theatrical potential.
Cheonggyecheon district, central Seoul, the present day. In a grungy warehouse, a young man, Sang-gu (Lee Won-jang), commits suicide. Some time later, young debt collector Lee Gang-do (Lee Jeong-jin), 30, is going about his business, collecting debts from small machine-shop businesses in the area, generally by crippling the debtors (or forcing them to maim themselves) and collecting their insurance. After visiting one client, Hun-cheol (Wu Gi-hong), he's approached by a mysterious middle-aged woman, Jang Mi-seon (Jo Min-su), who says she's his mother and asks forgiveness for abandoning him when he was born. Gang-do rejects her and carries on with his life, next visiting another client, Tae-seung (Jo Jae-ryong), whom he threatens to throw off a building site. Another client, Gang-cheol (Heo Jun-seok), has already committed suicide. Meanwhile, Mi-seon will not give up on hanging round Gang-do, even after he humiliates her physically and sexually. Gradually, she starts to win him over and make him doubt his profession.
One of his darkest, most confrontational looks at the madness in the Korean soul, but still marbled with a trademark detachment and black humour, Pietà 피에타 (2012) reveals writer-director KIM Ki-duk 김기덕 | 金基德 as having lost none of his maverick invention, even during this third stage in his career. If the transcendental Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring 봄 여름 가을 겨울 그리고 봄 (2003) marked his transition to maturity, and his post-breakdown Arirang 아리랑 (2011) a transition to a more rarified plane, Pietà shows him fleshing out his imagination from the minimalism of Arirang and Amen 아멘 (2011) to a new style that, while still recognisably his own, has a fuller narrative flavour. Without a wasted shot or line of dialogue, the story of a ruthless young debt collector's redemption via a mysterious middle-aged woman pushes the viewer into uncomfortable areas in a way that no other South Korean director of his generation is still capable of. Neither a Hollywood wannabe nor a played-out auteur, Kim has stuck to his guns and shows that, in his 18th feature and early 50s, he's still a force to be reckoned with.
Kim has, of course, been here before: the play with religion and self-sacrifice (Samaritan Girl 사마리아 (2004)), the low-life central character and twisted love (Bad Guy 나쁜 남자 (2001)), and the whole concept of tough love (Birdcage Inn 파란대문 (1998), The Isle 섬 (2000)). What's new in Pietà is the stripped-down way in which the film riffs on these trademark ideas. Unlike in so much of recent South Korean cinema, the violence is never simply an expression of strutting male attitude or institutionalised bullying: when, in the early stages, the debt collector repeatedly slams the door on the woman's hand, or later physically molests her, the scenes have a genuine emotional power that goes beyond the violence, as Kim deliberately challenges his audience not to be turned off by the protagonists. The smile Kim has always had is less obvious here, and his visuals are grungier and less theatrical, but there's a detachment that says this is the mess we're in and if we can get through it there's hope (a new spring) at the end of the tunnel.
From the evidence in the films themselves, Kim's attitude to religion (specifically Catholicism) has always remained obscure, though it seems likely that he sees it as just another conduit for national obsessiveness. The woman in Pietà, who claims to be his mother, is certainly a total obsessive, a rough-hewn Madonna who, unlike his indebted victims, shows no physical fear and is on a mission to win his love. The movie plays around with her character as much as with the audience's expectations — notably in one sequence where the two, now bonded, go out to play in the streets of Seoul. Just as, in the best Kim films, the viewer never knows what to expect next, so here Kim keeps his simple, basically repetitive idea alive with sudden shifts in tone. Best of all is a scene where the debt collector, already doubting his profession, toys with a victim who is about to lose a hand (or not) and may never be able to play his beloved guitar again.
As the taciturn debt collector, LEE Jeong-jin 이정진 | 李廷鎭, who played the hard-arsed producer in Love On-Air 원더풀 라디오 (2011) and suspected child molester in No Doubt 돌이킬 수 없는 (2010), makes up in gradual revelation what he lacks in physical threat. But it's TV actress JO Min-su 조민수 | 趙敏修, 47, who carries the movie in a spell-binding performance as his never-say-die guilty conscience, a handsome, red-lipsticked bag lady who's even madder than he is. The edgy chemistry between the two is tangible.
HD photography by JO Yeong-shik 조영식 of cramped metal-workers' shops in Cheonggyecheon, central Seoul, is dark and claustrophobic — a warren of alleyways that, as the film makes clear, is doomed to extinction in the spotless, modern-day city. PARK In-yeong 박인영's score makes sparing but effective use of religioso harmonies, plus a Kyrie, eleison at the end that may or may not be ironic. Kim himself shot second camera, which captured many of the intense, in-your-face moments that contribute to the movie's raw power.