Friday, January 25, 2013

Some thoughts on Kim Ki-duk's Pieta (2012)

I am a huge Kim Ki-duk fan. Despite only reviewing a couple of his films here at Unseen, I really am a huge fan of the man's work. Actually I'm really confused some times when some of the other directors in Korea such as Jee-woon Kim and Chan-wook Park get more attention.

Pieta is Ki-duk's latest film. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival and has gone on to win a boatload of awards...a fact I'm kind of bewildered by.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad movie, I just don't think it's a great one.

The film follows a young man who works for a loan shark. His job is to cripple the people who owe his boss money so that the insurance money can be collected in place of the money owed. One day a strange woman comes into his life claiming to be his mother and suddenly his life is completely upset.

Before I say anything further I have to say that there are somethings I can't say in describing the film. I can't completely or even incompletely say more about the plot than I've said simply because to do so will give the progression of the film away and I don't want to do that. The less you know the better. (Also the film is too early in it's release cycle to spoil with a detailed discussion of plot details)

This is an extremely unpleasant film for a variety of reasons, which I'm not going to go into, partly because if you see the film you shouldn't be forewarned, and partly because I'd like to try and be one of the few reviews that doesn't go into them. The film needs to have it's shocks to work and I won't take that away. Just realize when you go in that this is the sort of film that is going to have many people covering their eyes, but not because of gore... but because the situations are just disturbing.

I like Pieta but I don’t love it. I suspect that I would like it more if it wasn’t getting the critical acclaim that it’s garnered in some corners. This isn’t to say the it’s a bad film, it’s not. It’s actually a very good one, it’s just not a great one.

I suspect much of the love for the film in Europe and elsewhere comes from people not really being familiar with the frequent turns of cruelty in Korean cinema. I can only imagine how this film would have played for me had I not seen some of the Korean films I have where cruelty and ugliness is a way of life. Films like King of Pigs, Choked, End of Animal, Re-encounter or Missing Person all are frightening in their bleak black world view. The darkness of big fish abusing the smaller ones runs all through Korean cinema and while it’s deeply disturbing it frequently feels like par for the course and the typical Korean world view. As much as it pains me to say this, the level of nastiness in this film, while disturbing isn’t as bad as I’ve seen in other Korean films (see any of the films above, all of which have been reviewed here). I really think that many of the people raving about this film have simply never seen anything like this before.

Another reason that the film didn’t blow my skirt up was that at times it feels like a conventional Korean film. The opening scenes with Kang seem more like a send up than the work of Ki-duk Kim who always manages to makes his films kind of lyrical and special. This film feel as though it could be the work of anyone of his contemporary directors. Actually it struck me as so much a riff on the work of others and soap opera that I found my chuckling through a good portion of the film. Yes it’s disturbing but at the same time I had to wonder if the director was being serious. (Blame the stoic brooding mother character for much of it, she’s simply too much to believe)

At the risk of saying too much the other thing that kind of disappointed me was that I knew where the larger story was going. I don’t know if it is the story itself or whether I’ve seen too many of the director’s other films, I knew where this was going. It didn’t kill the film, it just kind of took the edge off.

As I said I really like this film and would give it a solid good rating, I just don’t think it’s a great one. Perhaps down the road when I see it again I'll think more of it, but for right now I'm going to remain quizzical about all of the awards the film has won.

Critical reservations aside this film is most  definitely worth seeing when it hits theaters here in the US - especially if you want to have your ass kicked to the curb..

No comments:

Post a Comment