3-Iron, directed by Kim Ki-duk, has won many prestigious awards including the Little Golden Lion award at the 2004 Venice International Film Festival and the Golden Spike Award at the Valladolid Film Festival in 2004. The uniqueness and allure of the film comes from the glaring lack of conversation that almost always exists between the characters. Through silence, the film discusses the importance of facial expressions to convey an idea or a sentiment, how the display of emotions, especially tenderness and love, can be conveyed more poignantly than if the emotions were verbalized, and how the absence of sound can more starkly contrast different people’s lifestyles.
The film focuses around the journey of a lost soul named Tae-suk, played by actor “Hyun-kyoon Lee”, and an abused wife who runs away with Tae-suk, named Sun-Hwa, played by actress “Seung-yeon Lee”, as they quietly live in other people’s homes. They are squatters, people who slip in and out of the house and leave no trace as if they were never there. They do not steal from the owners and what they touch they put back or even fix, if it was broken. Many movies have an abused wife, like Fried Green Tomatoes or Punch Lady, but the fact that she becomes a squatter with a younger man is something new and refreshing. This bizarre twist is one of the many hooks for the film.
The movie is filled with unspoken emotions, as these emotions are explored instead through silence. This would seem rather hard to do, but with his innate skill, Kim Ki-duk pushed his actors to express their actions through facial expressions, or lack thereof, and deliberate actions. Tae-suk’s signature smile is probably one of the best aspects of the movie. It held so much emotion and displayed so much of the character’s personality. The smile is used in many scenes throughout the entire film, but in each scene it takes on a different meaning. The smile shows compassion towards Sun-hwa and is also used to taunt the police who are trying to get information out of Tae-suk. Hyun-kyoon Lee is able to perfect Tae-suk’s smile so that it almost seems to speak for Tae-suk.
Kim Ki-duk shows that love and solace can be found in the gentlest touches and does need words to validate it. This can be seen in the fact that the love between the protagonists is the strongest emotion displayed in the film. In one particular scene, we see Tae-suk lay his head in the crook of Sun-hwa’s neck and she strokes his head as his tears fall. The love between them shines comfortingly and honestly. No words are spoken, but a shoulder to cry on and the reassuring pressure on his head is enough to express her feelings for him and show that she is by his side.
The silence of the Tae-suk and Sun-hwa contrasts starkly with the talkative families that inhabit the houses where the protagonists stay. The talking between the family members is nothing out of the ordinary, it merely shows conventional familiar relationships from sweet talking to fighting. However, it does further separate the two main characters from the everyday reality that the talking people represent. It creates the feeling that the protagonists are on a different plane of reality from the other characters, because it feels like they are looking in on the normal lives, not living them. The protagonists just lurk in the corners of normalcy trying to feed off of the people by occupying their houses, but in the end they never truly assimilate. But, together they are able to make their own life system, even though it is nothing like the other families, it makes them happy. Going from house to house, sleeping and eating together, not talking but affectionately touching each other, and taking pictures in others’ homes is what makes them satisfied even if they differ from the ‘normal’ families in whose houses they stay. This is a contrast, but their life style is not necessarily a bad thing because they seem to enjoy it, as long as they have each other.
Kim Ki-duk seems to be neither condoning nor condemning silence. He shows what the absence of sound can reveal. It can tell everything from how people truly feel about each other to what it can reveal about different life styles. Kim Ki-duk has his main characters embrace silence as a medium to portray the protagonists’ story of their life together.