With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Friday, May 17, 2013

ACF 1900: Kim Ki-Duk's award-winning PIETA opens in NY and LA today; national release to follow

Drafthouse Films
Written and directed by Kim Ki-Duk
South Korea, 2012, 104 minutes

Kim Ki-duk's Pieta will open theatrically in New York, Los Angeles and ten other U.S. cities on May 17th, with an additional eight cities to be added in the following weeks. For a complete list of cities and opening dates, click here. (The film has been available On Demand and at iTunes since April 12th.)

Pieta is set in Cheonggyecheon, once a thriving area for South Korea's industrial development that is now in decline. (It is also the area near which director KIM grew up.) Kang-do (LEE Jung-jin) is a collector for a loan shark, an enforcer who is barely human and who leads a solitary existence. One would not be too far afield in thinking of him as a Korean counterpart to Anton Chigurth, the character played by Javier Bardem in the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men.

LEE Jung-jin as Kang-do

When debtors can't pay back their loans, he is remorseless in either forcing them to maim themselves or in doing it himself, because they have been made to take out insurance policies payable to the loan shark as a hedge against defaulting. Thus, unlike the Chigurth character, Kang-do doesn't kill people, he just forces them to disable themselves. In fact, he resents it when a desperate individual does himself in because it makes it complicates the process of collecting the insurance money. Kang-do justifies his actions by describing the debtors as "irresponsible" because they have borrowed money but can't repay their loans.

One day a mysterious woman named Mi-sun (played by veteran actress CHO Min-soo), enters his life, saying she is his mother and that she regrets having abandoned him when he was an infant. Kang-do intially discredits her claim, but comes to believe that she is indeed his mother. Humanity begins to enter his being, and he increasingly finds that he can no longer do his job.

CHO Min-soo as Mi-sun

The film is shot in muted earth tones and shades of grey, as befits its gritty realism. On the other hand, I personally found that it works best as an allegory about two things: the illusion that having money will lead to happiness and the importance of family. For when all is said and done, Pieta may be about nothing so much as the lengths to which a mother will go out of love for her son.

With Pieta, which won the Golden Lion award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, KIM Ki-duk has again produced a masterful work, one of incredible emotional power. It relentlessly confronts issues of exploitation, revenge, regret, and atonement. Most definitely a must see.

ACF Rating: 4 out of 4 stars; outstanding, exceptional.