DIR/WRI/ED: Kim Ki-duk • PROD: Kim Soon-mo, Kim Ki-duk • DOP: Cho Yeong-jik • CAST: Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su
It may be less a useful comment on Korean culture than a gloss on the limited number of Korean films released in the West to observe that revenge—elaborate to the point of convoluted—is a recurring theme within films emanating from Korea. In this way, a very narrow range of genre films has come to represent, for many cinemagoers, all Korean cinema. While reductive, this association has some value in establishing a readymade audience.Those who enjoyed the baroque plots, lurid violence and perversity of Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance should warmly embrace Kim Ki-duk’s latest film.
Within a run-down neighbourhood of backstreet metal workshops and lock-ups in an otherwise modern city, Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) enforces a brutal loan-shark operation, forcing irresponsible debtors to suffer grievous industrial “accidents” to recoup the unpaid debt from insurance payouts. This young, solitary thug is unprepared for the sudden appearance of a middle-aged woman (Jo Min-su) who claims to be the woman who abandoned him at birth. As she dogs his steps on his bloody rounds, he is initially dismissive, then sceptical, finally curious, and sets out to test her seemingly limitless devotion in the face of his cruelty. His wariness is slowly eroded until he finds himself in just the kind of vulnerable human relationship he was once able to callously overlook as he severed or destroyed the limbs of his victims.
The Christian iconography invoked by the title Pietà —the Madonna cradling the corpse of Christ—never meshes completely with the vengeful deeds we see onscreen. Nevertheless Kim’s latest film succeeds well in winding viewers into the web of dark compulsions of love and redress at the heart of its story.
Pietà is released on 13th September 2013