Another superb new release proves that the best of contemporary cinema still is coming from outside the Europe/US axis. Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s 3 Iron is a laconic, minimalist film which, even though it is nearly entirely devoid of dialogue, mesmerises like the proverbial siren. It’s an usual love story with traces of magic realism. Ki-duk wrote the original story and shows he has a very fertile, idiosyncratic imagination. He’s already getting attention in Europe, having won the 54th Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival.
3 Iron is the story of Tae-suk (Jae Hee), a loner whose hobby is to spend time in empty houses. He goes from door to door and puts up ad flyers on the keyholes of each house. He later breaks into the house where the flyer is not removed, assuming that the owner is away. Tae-suk doesn’t steal anything. In fact, he repairs objects (clocks seem to be his favourite) and sometimes even does the laundry. He’s just a harmless voyeur.
The film makes the viewer follow him through a few houses (therefore becoming a voyeur of the voyeur) until he comes across Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), a battered housewife whose home has become a prison for her. He sees her crying and her husband abusing her. He frees her, they bond and she starts to accompany him on his wanderings through other people’s homes, all the while barely exchanging a word.
3-Iron (a golf term; golf is one of the films’s main motifs) is a delicate, crystalline fable about human relations and the chance links between people that can produce moments of magic. But mainly, it’s the fact that the story unravels with such economy that makes the film so perfect. Jae Hee and Lee Seung-yeon carry 3-Iron with elegance, subtlety and puerile humour that both charms and enchants. This is avant-Zen cinema at its best.