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BEAR Reviews… 3 Iron
The film opens of a static shot of someone (not seen yet) hitting golf balls into a practice net. BEAR is perceptive enough to spot the subtext here (domestic abuse) as behind the net is a statue of a stone woman. Look even closer and you will see that this is a stone lady who comes to represent Sun-Hwa. If you’re asking yourself, “BEAR, how do you know that this is an omen of what is to come when it hasn’t happened yet?” then BEAR will provide you with a simple explanation: BEAR has seen this movie before. NOTE: I like to refer to myself as BEAR sometimes, just to remind you, a human person, whose words you are reading – the words of an actual BEAR!
Next, we are introduced to Tae-Suk, a young drifter who goes from house-to-house, pinning flyers on the doors. He assumes that, if no-one takes the flyer off after some time has passed, then that means nobody is currently living there. He breaks in (Tae-Suk is also an expert lockpicker) and then roams around the property, nosing about, having a shower, having a kip, and taking selfies of himself by random stranger’s possessions. This young man sure knows how to make himself at home. BEAR thinks this guy has some ballz for doing such novel trespassing – if I, a BEAR, were to do that… actually I don’t even know how to use a photocopier, so no I wouldn’t even try. What I find strange about this character is, even though he breaks into people’s houses, he fixes stuff, makes the place look tidy (when there is no need to) and cleans their clothes. Sure, the toy gun we see him fix in the first break in was for his own amusement of using it to shoot balloons in the house, but you can’t help but think what he might be thinking. Perhaps, Tae-Suk–even though he breaks into houses–is a kind soul, and wants that kid to be able to have a toy gun that does what it is suppose to do – he is thoughtful (or perhaps, just lacking respect). Either way, when the owners come back to the house, the kid inevitably picks up the toy gun, and shoots his mother in the face with it.
Driving down the road, after leaving that family flat, Tae-Suk stumbles upon the house where he blocked a businessman from getting out of his driveway. He looks at the door, and lo-and-behold: the pizza flyer is still there. He goes in through the back gate.
As he strolls through the lavish garden, it becomes apparent to the viewer (which is BEAR) that the man hitting golf balls into the net earlier lives here (hence the golf practice net in the heart of the garden). What I, a BEAR, wasn’t expecting was that there was someone present in the building. Tae-Suk assumed wrong, also.
At first, Tae-Suk is unaware of the young woman’s presence – even when he opens the sliding door to the bedroom she is in, he did not see her. I, BEAR, did see her, and also saw that her face was badly beaten up. But what was most interesting was that the young woman, did not even attempt to hide her presence. Of course, we the audience can guess that though she is perhaps hidden by the wall when Tae-Suk opens the bed, all he would need to do is crane his neck the other way to see she is there. BEAR finds this highly peculiar… but in a good, cinematic way.
She doesn’t even mind him being there. In fact, she seems to feel safe around him, but not safe enough to let him know that she is there. So what happens is that she observes him: how he cooks, how he is respectful of her possessions, cleans her clothes, etc. and all without revealing herself. It’s kind of poetic, BEAR thinks, because her wealthy husband has a coffee-table book of her in naked poses, whereas in this odd, undefined relationship between two strangers, we have a different relationship – a relationship that only she can know of – a secret relationship. She does not reveal herself… yet.
She watches him through the glass, practising his golf swing with her husband’s golfing equipment (picking up the 3 iron!!), she watches him have a bath, fixing her scales – it’s like her fantasy lover! (BEAR believes this is what is at the core of this movie. If you don’t agree thus far – read on and BEAR will prove you wrong).
And finally, at the end of the day, whilst Tae-Suk is masturbating over the image of Sun-hwa – she reveals herself. The phone rings (as it did before), but this time she answers it. Tae-suk is about to leave, and then Sun-hwa screams down the phone, hanging it up. He looks at her as if to say, “What are you doing with him – he did that to you, didn’t he?” and she just looks back, defeated. He leaves.
When the Sun-hwa’s husband comes back, he yells at her and treats her like dirt… then apologies. But the damage done to this poor girl is already cemented–it’s become their routine–and Tae-suk knows this, and is spying on them as the events unfold before his eyes (through the glass of the back door). And then, he tries to force himself on her, but she pulls away, which results in him slapping her, proving his previous apology to be highly fickle.
The husband then realises there is someone playing golf in his backyard. He goes outside to confront Tae-suk, who decides to unleash his 3 iron expertise on his woman-beating sorry ass. He hits golf ball after golf ball into him, making sure he feels intense pain, just like how he made his own wife feel pain. Tae-suk stops after spotting Sun-hwa watching him through the glass. He keeps the 3 iron, and picks up the last golf ball, and makes his silent exit. BEAR likes the use of the statues again: notice how the lion looks like it is resting it’s paw on the husband of Sun-hwa – that’s symbolic, no? (see picture below). Notice also, how when Tae-suk is looking through the glass, how the target poster of the practice golfing set is superimposed over the husband’s head. The director, Kim Ki-Duk, is definitely a glass act, in BEAR’s book.
In 3 Iron, anything and everything associated with golf is symbolic of violence. Note how later on, how Sun-hwa stands in the direction of Tae-suk’s ‘swing’ – he has no intention of hurting her, but she has grown dependant on such violent behaviour. And when the device Sun-hwa has made breaks loose (he screwed a hole through the ball, and wrapped metal wire through it, so he could tie it around a tree, or a lamppost, to practice his swing), the golf ball goes through a windscreen and badly injures a person. What this signifies BEAR does not know, but it could mean that violent energy is violent; and no matter how well you can restrain yourself, it will come out one way or another, and potentially hurt those around you.
Tae-suk looks after Sun-hwa, and they break into a house to spend the night. Their relationship is cute, almost fairytale, or dreamy, in a way. But this time, they get rumbled by the house owners, and the man of the house gives Tae-suk his best ‘swing’.
And it all goes well… until it doesn’t.
Eventually, their luck runs out, and they break into a house where the person living there is dead on the floor. They wrap the body in a cocoon of bedding–out of respect–but fate is not on their side, as relations to the owner knock on the door, and find them in there. They immediately become suspects and are taken in by the police.
When in the interrogation room, the officer goes through the camera and flicks through all the selfies Tae-suk took of himself in people’s homes. Sun-hwa is let free (she is on the missing person’s list), but Tae-suk is being accused of murder, amongst other things. BEAR knows that he didn’t kill that man as he was already dead in the flat (turns out he died of lung cancer). They even think he kidnapped Sun-hwa, which we know is not true either. And so, with the law not on his side (he knows how to make enemies with the wrong authorities – which is actually Tae-suk’s major flaw. If he could just not respond to these aggressive types in any way, then he wouldn’t have ended up in a jail ceil.
And from this point in the movie, both Tae-suk and Sun-hwa are trapped in a situation neither can escape from… their current reality. Tae-suk is stuck in prison, whereas Sun-hwa is stuck with her abusive husband (which is her own type of prison). The only way either can escape their misfortunes is by imagining that they are with one another. Tae-suk, in his clastrophobic ceil, vividly pieces together the surroundings of Sun-hwa, until he can picture everything. But he starts off small: he practices imagining he can still play golf (in his cell), and that he can hide from the prison guard when they come to check on him (which results on him getting beat up).
It’s sad, but what can either of them do – they’re trapped! Prisoners of their own reality. So instead, they retreat into their fantasies, which is where they both coalesce and share together as one. Their shared hatred of authority is what makes their love for each other stronger. And they lived happily every after, in an unhappily made up world. Well… sort of…
To BEAR, the film suggests that Tae-suk is now dead… but Sun-hwa isn’t told this by her husband – he says that Tae-suk is ‘set free’. The ghost of Tae-suk continues as before, visiting old haunts, getting revenge on the officer who ruined him. The soundtrack creates this really spooky, paranormal vibe, which is so hard to ignore, that you can’t help but think that this has indeed happened to Tae-suk – that he has passed on. Plus, the reactions of all the people thinking that someone’s watching them are all people from the old ‘haunts’ of Tae-suk and Sun-hwa. Oh, and the “floaty” style the camera takes on implies it too (though it is subtly used).
It’s hard for BEAR to tell if Sun-hwa is seeing Tae-suk’s ghost, or that she is in fact imagining he is there, but BEAR thinks that is the beauty, and tragedy of the situation. Such pathos.
This film is everything BEAR can ask for in a film, and BEAR can sum it up in one word: Magic (with a capital ‘M’). Not many films can make me feel such a variety of feelings, and also make me truly ponder the existence that we live in. This is what BEAR calls a masterpiece of cinema. Breathtaking.
This film gets top marks from a BEAR: