Tae-Suk is a mysterious young man who makes his living by going around to different neighborhoods and placing hangers for restaurants on the doorknobs of various homes and apartments. This affords him to opportunity to kind of keep a vague idea of who's around and who isn't, based on whether or not the hanger is still there the next morning – if it is, odds are that the residents are out of town. When this is the case, Tae-Suk will move in for a night or two and use the place as his own, photographing himself in front of whatever artwork might happen to adorn the walls of the abode. He's not a thief, he doesn't steal anything (unless you count the occasional meal he makes himself) and he's not a vandal as he doesn't destroy anything. He simply moves around from unattended home to unattended home and he evens does things like fix broken clocks and scales or do laundry as a strange sort of way of repaying the people who live in these places.
One night, Tae-Suk enters a fancy home he assumes is abandoned for the night, goes through his normal routine of making himself at home by having a bath and reading a magazine and then retires for the evening in bed. Before he goes to sleep, he masturbates to a book of nude photographs that was laying on the coffee table, and it's then that he gets caught red handed by Sun-Hwa, the woman who happens to not only be the wife of the man who owns the home he's staying in, but the model in the very same photographs he's been fantasizing about. When she catches him, she says nothing. Both parties remain silent, not sure what to make of the situation that they've found themselves in but Tae-Suk does notice the bruises on her face and it doesn't take a genius to figure out who put them there.
Tae-Suk hangs around long enough to witness Sun-Hwa's husband coming back from a business trip. He wants sex from her despite the fact that he's obviously beaten her within the last couple of days, but she's none too keen on this idea and understandably so. His reaction to her coldness is to smack her around some more, and when Tae-Suk sees this, he causes a distraction by whacking some golf balls into the net setup in the backyard using a 3-iron. The husband sees this, comes outside to confront him, and finds himself on the receiving end of a trio of golf balls to the chest and groin, sending him down to the ground reeling in pain. Sun-Hwa and Tae-Suk leave him there and head out on their own, moving from home to home every couple of days until the eventually walk into one and find a dead man, who the respectfully bury. From here, things start to spiral downward and inevitably, the police are called in when the couple are found squatting in the dead man's apartment with his body carefully placed in the ground not too far away. Sun-Hwa and Tae-Suk are separated by the police but eventually Tae-Suk is found innocent of the man's death and set free, but it isn't going to be that easy for them to rekindle their love despite their obvious feelings for one another as her husband is still very much in the picture and not about to take things lying down.
Filmed almost completely without dialogue between the two main characters, 3-Iron is a pretty mesmerizing and unique film that proves to be both captivating and quite beautiful. While there are a few moments of intense violence, there's nothing in the film that even comes close to the sheer nastiness of some of Kim Ki-duk's earlier films like The Isle and while this is hardly a mainstream film at all (not even close) it might just be his most accessible film to date in that it doesn't set out to shock the viewer so much as just tell deceptively simple little love story. Accessible, in this case however, doesn't mean uninteresting as there's still plenty to think about once the end credits hit the screen. Tae-Suk's reasons for his unusual lifestyle are left completely open to interpretation. We know he's a college graduate with no history as far as a police record is concerned so it should be a given that he's an intelligent person capable of making a living doing something more cerebral than placing door hangers and in fact, judging by the caliber of the BMW motorcycle he drives throughout the movie he might actually come from or have a reserve of some real money. These facts make his decision to live his life the way he does all the more mysterious, and the fact that Sun-Hwa joins him after getting fed up with the abuse she's suffered at the hands of her husband despite the fact that he looks after her material needs very nicely also rather odd. Wouldn't someone coming from an abusive relationship want some sort of stability in their new life? The very vagueness of their colliding worlds makes their relationship all the more interesting in that there's really no reason for them to be together but they find one another none the less – which, as all well know, is the way it goes sometimes. The ending, as odd as it might seem, wraps things up nicely though as though Tae-Suk's lifestyle and decision making isn't explained, it is brought into the big finish and it definitely works in the context of the film - maybe all that practice came in handy after all.
The two principal performers in the film, Lee Seung-yuen and Jae Hee respectively, do a marvelous job with the material. The very fact that they're able to convey as much emotion and depth as they do in this film without ever really talking is a testament to their abilities in front of the camera and their work here is both convincing and very moving. Both actors are able to say more with their eyes than many are able to with their mouths and they're more than capable of handling the Kim Ki-duk's challenging script. The cinematography is subtle but none the less effective as the story doesn't need any flashy camera work but instead makes very effective use of slow and linear movements that work nicely in conjunction with the narrative.
While those looking for the shock value present in some of his other work might be disappointed that there's only really three violent scenes in the film and that none of them are as grisly as any of the scenes in some of his other movies, hopefully they'll be impressed by the moving performances and beautiful storytelling that Kim Ki-duk has managed to pull together for 3-Iron, one of the best and more original romantic films made in recent times. From the opening scene (very metaphorical, it is) to the unusual climax, 3-Iron is pure poetry.
Sony presents 3-Iron in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85.1 in a transfer that is enhanced for anamorphic sets. While there's a bit of grain here and there and the odd speck of print damage does creep into the picture, for the most part we're left with a very nice image. Unfortunately, there are a few scenes with some heavy edge enhancement and some heavy shimmering and this does distract a little bit but this isn't present so much throughout the entire film as it is in sporadic moments. The color scheme looks lifelike and natural as do the skin tones and the black levels stay strong and don't and don't break up or demonstrate any mpeg compression artifacts. Not a perfect transfer, but a very good one with a pleasant level of detail present throughout the duration of the film.
3-Iron is presented in a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in its native Korean language with optional subtitles available in English and French. An alternate French language track is also supplied, though there is no English dub nor is there a closed captioning option. This isn't a very aggressive mix but then again, it doesn't need to be. The surround channels are used mainly for the music and the background noise but they do kick in during some of the more active scenes, and the golf-ball sequences pack a bit of punch. What little dialogue there is in the film sounds just fine, nice and clean and clear and the English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors.
Aside from some trailers for other, unrelated DVD releases available from Sony, the only extra features on this release is a director's commentary track from Kim Ki-duk. Presented in Korean with English subtitles, this is a pretty interesting listen and although a subtitled commentary might not be everyone's cup of tea overtop of a subtitled film, this one is pretty rewarding in that we get to hear the director discuss his thoughts on the film in his own words. Yeah, alright, that's the basis of pretty much any director's commentary to an extent, but Kim Ki-duk isn't your run of the mill filmmaker, he sees things differently and his perspective on life, love and hatred is not only unique but also quite fascinating. While there could be more technical details discussed or more anecdotes provided, what we do get is a look inside his head and at his thought process and the way he, as a writer and director, creates films. It's an interesting and atypical commentary but one that suits the tone of the feature film very appropriately.
A very lyrical and romantic film, albeit from a rather unusual perspective, makes for an interesting and arresting viewing. Sony's region one release of 3-Iron looks and sounds quite good and while there aren't a ton of extra features, the director's commentary is a completely worthwhile supplement and it's nice to see it included on this release. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.