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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame Review] "3-Iron": Ghosts, Golf, and Silent Love.


In the Spotlight this Week: "3-Iron" by Kim Ki-duk

Ever get that feeling that someone is watching you? That tingling sensation from one, but you're not quite sure which one, of your senses that makes your ears perk up and your eyes dart around suspiciously. If we were in a horror flick, as we often suspect, it would be at this precise moment-after a crashing crescendo, naturally-that a black cat would spring out from nowhere, an unexpected visitor would burst through a door you were about to open or, get ready to run now, something would violently reveal itself and crystallised your fears. Most of the time we 'snap' out of it, take a gulp of cool rationality and calm ourselves back to, what we believe to be, the sane reality that our personal bubbles and bodies have not, in fact, been violated. It was just our imagination, a glitch in the matrix, or someone running over our future graves. But those uncanny inklings often persist-as they often threaten to do, even if it's just for fleeting instant-and we are prompted to pinch ourselves and remember, and as Kim Ki-duk's "3-Iron" concludes, that "it's hard to tell that the world we live in is either a reality or a dream".

The twisted allure of Kim's pictures are that whenever we grit our teeth and submit to one of them, we feel a little dirty. In them, we become privy to some neurotic mind's eye of a parallel universe that trails ours like a deranged and dreamy shadow. It's a world that looks like our own, but was perhaps pulled from the oven to early or late, making them seem raw, crispy and cruel. In "3-Iron"-a film Korea's dark alchemist reportedly wrote in a month, shot in less than three, and edited in ten-Kim has us following a mute shadow come ghost in love: A taciturn figure (not entirely dissimilar from the dumb pander in "Bad Guy") that breaks in to others' abodes and, quite literally, makes himself at home.

Tae-seok (Jae Hee) goes around on his two-cylinder BMW and sticks takeout menus to people's front doors. An innocent enough vocation (although it must of taken years to save up for the bike), but the disturbing twist is that he always returns. And if those innocuous advertisements are still on your door when he does, he breaks in, baths, washes his underwear and disturbs all your bedbugs.

Creepy, for sure, but he is also a handy man of sorts. Got a BB gun that needs fixing? A scale out of sync? Or maybe you were worried about your prize petunias not surviving while you're away. No matter, Tae-seok attends to it all while dressed in your best. If cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness, then Tae-seok is, on the whole, a sanitary celestial phantom. But Tae-seok is actually far from even saintly. When he's not crashing on your couch or rummaging in your fridge for leftovers, he's taking selfies in front of your family portraits and masturbating under your silk sheets.

Tae-seok is another voiceless vessel for this atypical artist's goal of exposing the mundane and diseased underbelly of human life. The homes he invades are not those belonging to idealistic individuals and couples; they are, instead, the personal places that exude perfection, but return to soiled spaces when their squabbling, tragic, and abusive occupants return home.

Tae-seok, as an otherwise soundless spectre, soon has his creepy life complicated when one of his more opulent occupations turns out to have a ghost of its own. There, behind its impressive entrance, an abused woman cowers ( Lee Seung-yeon as Seon-hwa). Her silence is not like our anti-hero, inherited, but imposed as her keeper's fists have thoroughly caressed her picturesque face. She takes this Casper's hand, but Tae-seok's vagrant life style is ill-suited for the troubling tread marks of two, let alone those whose old master rages for revenge and their return.

Kim's filmography flirts with the avant-garde tradition, wallows thigh-high in obscure characters, and paints infected worlds for them to inhabit. Kim wants to challenge your soft and sheltered worldview, to spoon out your current gelatinous orbs and replace them with alien specs. At the forefront of his unique visions are maladjusted/pre-poisoned characters, which he then contrasts with sad societal backdrops that empathically frame the uncomfortable and perverse.

These deviant divergences are acutely poetic, unconventional, and jarring. In "3-Iron" (one of Kim's most well-known and popular pieces) that rhapsodic presentation does come, however, with a few latter-day warts. As the initial provocative stanzas drift into more recognisable prose, viewers are confronted with a false awakening that threatens the suspicion of disbelief. The master struggled with Tae-seok's re-birth, our protagonist's ultimate transformation, and what started out as softly spoken lyrics by Korea's dark alchemist, turns into broken cries of a frustrated chemist. "3-Iron" has a beautiful bearing, a much-loved audacity and freshness, but the final stages where haphazardly arranged and almost threatened to undo the magic of this eccentric romance.

"3-Iron" concludes with a philosophical murmur, a forced reminder of the film's original intent. It was a disappointing, perhaps pretentious, final flutter that was in the spirit of the film's opening aims, but one that stammered during its final hour. Overall though, "3-Iron" is a riveting, character driven love potion that produces something deeply empathetic and comforting, a worthy and bewitching pilgrimage that is well placed within Kim's audacious collection of cinematic delights.

- C.J. Wheeler (


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