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1/3 (One-Third)

Kino // Unrated // June 5, 2007
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 16, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Testing moral fiber within a film like Yongman Kim's One-Third can be a real trial, especially when the film suffers from a lack of focused direction. Clashing the two forces of stringent spirituality and lustful entrepreneurship sounds like a promising mix, kind of like seeing what happens when oil and water really do mix. Sadly, this film's crumbling momentum and misfired attempts at critique amongst said conflict keep One-Third from being the sparkling curiosity it very easily could've been.

The Film:

Sketching, praying, and sensibly nibbling down on a typical Buddhist monk's diet sums up just about everything our main character enjoys throughout the day. He basks in the sun and draws strangers for his meager living, enough for food and rent for his quaint little apartment. The closest tangible relationship he's built seems to be with his plants and the tapestry adorning his orange walls. He keeps people at a distance, especially his attractive female neighbor Lotusia who always seems to sport the same alluring Catholic schoolgirl outfit.

The urge strikes our monk late one night to work on a sketch he's been building that features his beautiful neighbor. Instead of using his easel, he screws this sketch into the wall connecting their two apartments. This skewering seemed a little strong; a hole shows up looking into the adjacent apartment after he removes the screw. Opening this hole into the confines of his neighbor's apartment gives his spiritual and moral feelings a bit of grief. After temptation gets the best of his and he peers into the next room, he discovers that his sketched neighbor is a prostitute with a fairly substantial client list of unappealing, wicked men. He's left with the lingering voyeuristic itch to keep looking through his new peephole, but with more of a concerned eye than a perverse one.

Initially, One-Third shines with promise. There's a peculiar tension mounted within the colorfully claustrophobic confines of our monk's apartment. His everyday routine, packed with serving miniscule levels of food from all the basic food groups into a wooden bowl and meditating to timeless extents, will certainly conflict with the next-door neighbor's unsavory profession. Through this magical hole skewered through the wall into the lair of a prostitute, our Buddhist monk unsuccessfully battles with temptation to look.

Mix together these ideas with a concentrated effort to keep the film nearly silent (except for a minimal level of support voices and sound effects) and you've got something bubbling in the pot here. That dynamic, that war between spiritually dire conservatism and the hedonistic proprietary of a lost woman, made me hopeful for something with a shade of enlightenment and moral play. Plus, each minimally photographed shot within the film is well thought and captivating to capture in your eyesight. In concept and surface creation, I was on board.

One-Third, however, gradually turns into what would probably be the end result if Kim Ki-Duk crafted a nonsensical film without set bearings on direction or realism. Many of its conflicts and plot revelations can be appealing, but ultimately leave you without strong belief in their happening. Many cornerstone elements, such as the causal discovery of the peephole and the monk's wavering composure within himself, seem to lose clout rather quickly. To say the least, this film doesn't get rolling with affective pace after its mildly engaging introduction. The monk's actions, the prostitute's demeanor, and the supposed interrelations with her clients are weak enough to subtract from the validity of a potentially transfixing picture.

More importantly, One-Third is dreadfully and unpleasantly heartless at its poetic core. Belief inconsistencies could be forgiven if the film held a noble direction. However, we learn more than we probably should about things we don't care about in the film, yet feel and empathize far less than necessary to keep up a thoughtful pace. Our prostitute's past is unveiled to us through lengthy flashes backward, but they're not very well thought out and feel quite unnecessary. Then, once her clients show up and we see the gruff acts she engage in, a sense of unexplained emptiness blankets One-Third.

We strive to discover and interrelate with the psychoses of our female focal point, but ultimately cannot take those fragments of her past and piece together significant reasoning for taking a darker path. It's not from a lack of trying or wavering desire for discovery, either. One-Third is a mildly compelling spiritual curiosity that lacks a gratifying or thoughtful rhythm from the get-go.

The DVD:

Kino brings us One-Third in a standard keepcase DVD with a foldout brochure adorning the inner portion of the case.

The Video:

The director of photography and cinematographer that worked on One-Third better be glad they captured real beauty within the colors and confined spaces, because this DVD effort only shows off the color palette. Non-anamorphic letterbox and littered with dust, scratches, and reel-shift cigarette burns sums up One-Third's digital presentation. There's discoloration problems at the edges of the negative that really stand out, especially in darker scenes. I can't emphasize enough how wonderful the colors, as well as some detail, look in this. If it were enhanced and cleaned up, One-Third would be a nice visual treat. Alas, it's not.

The Audio:

The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track, however, is wholly unimpressive. The entire sound range felt very throaty and constrained. Thankfully, vocal levels aren't something we have to concern ourselves with here. The repetitive musical accompaniment with our prostitute's activities sound naturally suppressed through the walls. Though it was void of any nasty pops or blips, this is a very bland audio track.

The Extras:

A Still Gallery and a Theatrical Trailer are all we're working with here. Both of these little features highlight what's done exceedingly well in the picture - the aesthetics. Taken as photographs or assembled as a wholly silent short film, One-Third could've possibly been a more successful artistic beast.


Final Thoughts:

One-Third makes a valiant effort to captivate with an inventive, pensive basis. With just a little more refinement and purposeful guidance, this could hold the capacity to be a pretty good film. However, in this form, One-Third's cold journey into ethical conflict aptly serves as an abnormal and peculiar Rental.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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