Saturday, November 10, 2012


This is really quite a silly film, albeit played totally deadpan, from the portentous and only-just-relevant title on down, as a punky young loan enforcer goes around crippling the poor machinist clients who cannot pay their exorbitant interest. The appearance of a silent, nicely-dressed middle-aged lady amidst the fantastic detritus of the industrial tenement setting forces him out of his lonely, cold-blooded routine, and awakens suppressed mother issues that will leave him unable to do his job, and wide open for revenge.

My screening companion found this half-baked and predictable, and in a sense that is true, but the guessable twists and broad-stroke psychology pitch the film somewhere between overheated melodrama and grand guignol in an almost generic fashion, if one can speak of a genre of Korean crazy mother-love movies (and one can). As such Pieta provides much of the entertainment and enjoyment one might expect.

It is also true, however, that it sometimes feels as though director Kim Ki-Duk is asking us to take this seriously, and the variance in tone is occasionally off-putting – mother-rape is not fun; nor is the crippling by industrial machinery – but Korean cinema is well-used to taking such extremity in its stride. The enthusiastically broad characterization of the protagonist’s victims, however, touches like the recurring incredulity that he actually has a mother, and the nicely controlled craziness of Cho Min-Soo as the mysterious woman, invite us take the harsher aspects of the story with a pinch of comedic salt.

This may be overestimating the director’s sense of irony. Likewise, the socio-economic conditions that force these people into such inevitably disastrous financial straits are laid out simplistically, but never quite as truism, and the constant harping on money – is it life? is it death? – is a backdrop rather than a thesis. If the intention was to provide a convincing and thought-provoking portrait of economic deprivation and emotional torment, then it is certainly a failure; but taken as a flippant entertainment of high-pitched familial bonds, the inevitability of the revenge and redemption plot and the consistently amusing characterizations are perfectly satisfactory, right up to the false but still rather beautiful poignancy of the closing shots.

d/sc/ed Ki-duk Kim p  Soon-mo Kim ph Young-jik Jo m In-young Park cast Junj-jin Lee, Min-soo Cho, Yong-ok Jin, Jae-rok Kim, Kang Eunjin
(2012, S.Kor, 104m)
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