Friday, September 2, 2011

Movie Review: 3-Iron (2004)

3-Iron also known as Bin Jip (literal translation Empty Houses) is possibly my favourite film from acclaimed (and reviled) South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. Kim is the film maker who brought us such wonderful and disturbing cinema in the form of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter & Spring, The Isle and Bad Guy.

3-Iron is a love story with a difference, the most unusual ghost story you'll ever see and quite simply a stunning and thought provoking piece of cinema.

3-Iron is the story of Tae-Suk, who lives a solitary, ghostlike life breaking in to peoples houses whilst they're on vacation, experiencing what it is like to live their lives. He does their laundry and fixes things for them. In one house he meets the broken yet beautiful Sun-Hwa and his whole life changes.

Following up my recent explanation of the filmic term mise-en-scene over at Front Room Cinema, 3-Iron is the kind of movie you can point out to people and say "that's the importance of good direction," this movie could not exist without a strong guiding hand. It's all mise-en-scene.

This beautiful, slow moving, mystical film has so little dialogue you have to wonder what the script looked like and the auditioning process Kim Ki-Duk went through to find two lead actors who could give so much meaning to their every action.

Spring, Summer..... and The Isle were shot in some of the most beautiful locations imaginable and as such you could easily ignore the skill involved in creating the images found in those two very different movies but 3-Iron is largely filmed in tiny apartments and now you have to notice the care taken over every image because this film looks just as breathtaking as either of the other two movies.

Leah used the term magic realism to describe the overall feel of the piece and she's probably right. 99% of the story exists in reality but the 1% that you think isn't within the realms of possibility is what gives the movie a real edge. You will definitely have to think about what the movie means by the time the final credits roll, it is a movie that easily elicits an emotional response from the viewer but not in a shameless or obvious way and as with all magic realism you cannot possibly have a definite answer for what you've witnessed.

The relationship that develops between the two leads is told in such a way that images do all the talking for them, they don't interact in the usual sense. Tae-Suk slowly mends Sun-Hwa and she in turn helps him to find his place in the world.

I won't lie to you, this is an unusual concept for a movie and if you can't get past the first 20 minutes of the movie without asking yourself what the hell is going on you should probably give up. If however you, like me, are intrigued by the actions of Tae-Suk, you won't even notice the complete lack of dialogue and you are in for a real treat of movie.

And now I shall let the visuals do the talking for me, leave some blah below.


  1. Magical realism is a very interesting genre, I think... this looks fabulous. I've only seen one south korean film until now, The Housemaid, and as it really disturbed me, I wasn't sure if I wanted to see another one very soon. But this one looks like it's worth it.

  2. mette - the entire concept of magical realism is interesting. i don't think anything can come close to ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by MARQUEZ.

    I hope you give this one a chance. I haven't seen Housemaid but it certainly sounds dark. KIM KI-DUK has a tendency to make dark films but i definitely recommend 3-IRON and SPRING, SUMMER... as beautiful pieces of spiritual/mystical/magical cinema.

  3. Saw this mentioned in a couple of lists of Korean movies to check out, but somehow it didn't look that appealing, but I guess should give it a chance (for at least 20 minutes as you say) to find out.

  4. Nostra - what movies did appel from the list of Korean movies out of interest?

  5. I really enjoyed this movie, I describe it as an odd piece of rough art come to life from a landscape in captureing many angles of the brush and not knowing where it wanted to stick the painted image. It wanted to explore the whole canvas. I like movies that push the odd and reel in the reality by switching the pace and not doing the whole norm.

  6. I've been meaning to watch this one for some time, need to diversify my experience with Korean cinema. Everything I've seen involves violence and mayhem.

  7. I have wanted to see this for ages, thank you so much for reminding me. I've bumped it up high on my watchlist. If I like it (and in all probability I will), I'll review it on my site.

  8. What would you do without me to tell you what you think?
    I am actually the brains of this operation, everyone, Toby just looks pretty and tells me what shade of wallpaper he wants.

  9. The "magical realism" really kicks in right at the end. The final shot of this film is one of the most beautiful shots in any film I have ever seen. So pretty...

  10. Oooh I have been reading about Realists in my little book. Stunning images matey. I am glad you got CAPTURE to work!!

    I will probably never see it, but thanks for sharing my friend

  11. SL - you really should give it a chance, this and SPRING, SUMMER.... are beautiful and thought provoking films. Although a more easily accessible KIM KI-DUK film for you could be THE ISLE maybe.

    STEVE - thanks for stopping by. you mean the scales? or some other beautiful shot?

    LEAH - stop telling people that, it might be true but they can work it out for themselves on tuesdays.

    TYLER - you're welcome and i'm sure you will like it. have you seen any of his other movies?

    BT - they do seem to do violence and mayhem quite well though! KIM KI-DUK is the enfant terrible of Korean cinema apparently, largely due to his violence (without the mayhem) i think. But he also manages to create something much more subtle around that violence. What's the use in recommending just one? I say watch all of the ones mentioned in the review.

    HFR - you're new, good to see you here. primarily it is most definitely a work of art rather than a stale ordinary piece of movie making you're right.

  12. I've been doing a lot of catching up the past year with Korean movies. Looked at several lists and the movies (that I can remember) I've seen are the Revenge trilogy, Mother, The Chaser, Yellow Sea, JSA, My Sassy Girl, Speed Scandle, Take Off, The Man from Nowhere, The Host, Memories of Murder, The Good The Bad and the Weird, I Saw the Devil, Haeundae.

  13. Nostra - if you see all of those movies you will be way ahead of me! I recommend SAVE THE GREEN PLANET if you're checking out different types of Korean cinema though. and i didn't rate JSA despite all the hype, it was a bit too american for my tastes.

  14. Yeah, saw all of them a while ago as I really felt I had some catching up to do! Just looked at the highest grossing lists, top 10 lists etcetera and picked the movies which looked interesting.

    I forgot to mention Attack the Gas Station, which I also saw....

    As for JSA, I never caught any of the hype, so just saw it for what it was.

  15. Nostra - i heard ATTACK THE GAS STATION is pretty good. which ones would you recommend from your experience?

  16. I love to see comedic actors do a serious role. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Stranger Than Fiction are actually my favorites from those two actors. I admit I'm more of a comedic type, but the fact that they did them so well and so convincing I think made them my favorites.

  17. Could you please tell me which is the city where Iron 3 takes place?


    Gustavo Parra

  18. This is definitely my kind of film, thanks for letting me know that you did a (great) review on it! I'll be sure to watch it at some stage, looks like a beautiful.

    1. thank you, but a reviewer is only ever as good as the director will let him be. Kim-Ki Duk makes it easy to praise his movies. I really hope you enjoy it.