Sun-hwa comforting Tae-suk after the mishap with the golf ball
Kim Ki-duk’s film, 3-Iron (2004) is a poignant example of a Korean romantic drama. Two main themes, home and silence, are addressed in this film by following a silent young man, Tae-suk, as he breaks into a different family’s house every night. His vagabond lifestyle highlights a main message of the film: that possessions and meaningless words are not what are important in life. What really matters is building a sense of home through caring relationships.
In 3-Iron, Tae-suk sleeps in a different house each night after he ensures that the owner is away. Although he is illegally entering these houses, he never steals anything. He waters the family’s plants, fixes their electronics, washes his clothes, sleeps, and leaves in the morning in search of the next house. One night, Tae-suk enters the spacious house of a wealthy man and discovers a battered woman, Sun-hwa, who is clearly a victim of domestic violence. Tae-suk and Sun-hwa escape the abusive husband together and continue breaking and entering into houses every night. Their love for each other grows with each house they enter and persists even after Sun-hwa’s husband and a corrupt police force attempt to pull the silent twosome apart.
As 3-Iron progresses and Tae-suk and Sun-hwa fall more and more in love, the film suggests that home can only be found in another person. By entering and exiting other peoples’ spaces with ease, Tae-suk constantly challenges the idea of a physical home; a household may only be a space filled with one’s possessions and not actually a place where one feels he or she belongs and is loved. When Tae-suk enters each house, he shows that it is only really a shell and that the people who live inside the house make it a home. Similarly, although Tae-suk and Sun-hwa constantly change houses, they do not feel like they lack a home because they have each other and their caring relationship.
The silence of Tae-suk and Sun-hwa reinforces the idea that a sense of home built by a healthy relationship is what really matters in life. Although there is a lack of dialogue between the pair, they seem to have no trouble communicating at all; they care for and comfort each other, but speaking is never necessary. On the other hand, every antagonist in this film has a speaking role, which suggests that sometimes words can be empty and spoken promises can be false and can never build a sense of home. Furthermore, after Tae-suk is imprisoned, he entertains himself by training to be invisible. Each time his prison guard enters his cell, Tae-suk hides behind him without making noise or exposing his shadow. Now, in addition to not wanting to be heard, he does not want to be seen. As Tae-suk becomes increasingly silent and invisible, his relationship with Sun-hwa only grows stronger. Because of this invisibility, one question that 3-Iron poses, specifically at the end of the film, is that if one can make himself both silent and invisible, does he cease to exist? Since Tae-suk is silent and invisible, he is physically non-existent, but his home, his relationship with Sun-hwa, still exists. Home transcends one’s own physical existence because, like the bond between lovers, though it is invisible, it still exists.
The acting of the two protagonists in 3-Iron further connects the main themes of home and silence. Lee Hyun-kyoon, who plays Tae-suk, uses facial expressions and body language to convey his emotions. In the scene in which Sun-hwa’s husband tries to rape her, Tae-suk remains still and silent; his furrowed eyebrows, the downward tilt of his head, and his narrowed eyes suggests that he is furious and going to take action. His love and respect for Sun-hwa transcends his status as a criminal, making him a more sympathetic protagonist. Lee Seung-yeon, who plays Sun-hwa, mostly relies on eye contact with Tae-suk and body language to express what her character was thinking. After Tae-suk accidentally hits a woman in the head with a golf ball and is sitting with his head in his hands, Sun-hwa sits down next to him. Although she does not speak, the tender look in her eyes as she lightly touches his back and strokes his hair shows how much she truly cares for him. The superb acting of both Lee Hyun-koon and Lee Seung-yeon creates the silent yet strong connection between Tae-suk and Sun-hwa, which solidifies 3-Iron’s main theme that a home is defined as a caring relationship.
Using a silent relationship to challenge the idea of home makes 3-Iron a very intriguing film. Rather than focusing on the objects inside of households, the interactions of the people inside of the house are what really matter. Through the connection between Tae-suk and Sun-hwa, the film demonstrates that when two people have a bond, their caring relationship gives them a sense of home more than owning a house could.