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Review of 3-Iron


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.

Spring in a Small Town

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 Zichen and Yuwen on the broken wall that lines the town.

Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town (1948) offers an intimate view into the lives of the Dai family eight years after the second Sino-Japanese War. This film, an example of Chinese post-war cinema, intricately addresses the internal conflict that occurs at the juncture where duty and obligation to one’s family meet feelings of love and desire.

This internal conflict is specifically seen in the wife, Dai Yuwen. Her narration of the film offers the viewer an inside look into her unhappiness with her husband, Liyan, and their small, smothering town. Liyan is extremely sickly and spends his days sitting in the ruins of their broken-down home. One day, a surprise visitor, Zhang Zichen, appears at the Dai household to see Liyan. Unbeknownst to Liyan, Zichen and Yuwen have a past history that resurfaces upon seeing each other again. Zichen’s ten-day stay with the Dai family is filled with drama, secrecy, and repressed love, which always keeps the audience guessing.

The traditional Chinese family values of a wife’s piety and obligation to her husband are a major theme in Spring in a Small Town. It is clear that Yuwen is not satisfied with her home life because of her brooding and ill husband. When her past love, Zichen, arrives at her home, she constantly battles between the duty she must have for Liyan and her love for Zichen. Yuwen knows that according to traditional family values, she should remain with Liyan. However, knowing what she should do does not stop her from wanting Zichen, and this internal battle is apparent throughout the film.

Another theme in this film, brokenness, is clear even from the first scene. After the opening credits, a full shot shows Yuwen, walking along a broken and tattered wall that lines the city, a place that she reveals helps to clear her mind. Her house is also in shambles; broken and toppled-over walls line their property. This theme of brokenness is most apparent in the scene in which Yuwen and Zichen meet at the wall to speak about their past love for one another in private. Rather than speaking face-to-face, the two stand shoulder to shoulder, staring straight ahead while pressed against one of these deteriorating walls that line the village. As they discuss their lingering feelings, they are looking away from their town and the life that ties them to this place of unhappiness.

Actress Wei Wei’s portrayal of Dai Yuwen’s inner turmoil regarding her relationships with Liyan and Zichen is extremely convincing. She plays the role in a modest manner, yet at times she can be rather unpredictable, making bold statements and drunkenly flirting with Zichen. Because of this versatility, Wei Wei’s performance is the best in the film. Yu Shi is effective in his role as Dai Liyan, because although his character is sickly, Shi portrays him in a way so that his presence still remains important in the film. Moments of tenderness with Yuwen humanize him and make Yuwen’s decision even harder  to predict. Finally, Wei Li’s performance as Zhang Zichen is also very strong. Li plays the role of Zhang in a very likeable way, not being overly insistent that Yuwen come away with him, which earns him the viewer’s support. Due to the convincing acting in Spring in a Small Town, the audience sympathizes with all of the characters, and therefore grapples with Yuwen as she battles with the difficult decision between staying with Liyan and leaving with Zichen.

Spring in a Small Town offers love triangles, suicide attempts, and difficult life decisions that intrigue the audience from the opening credits. However, the pacing of the film is rather slow and unhurried, and its most frustrating aspect is the lack of a neat ending that provides closure. However measured the pacing of this film may be, its slowness does offer an intimate and thorough look into the lives of Chinese townspeople and, through Yuwen’s internal conflict, the traditional Chinese familial values. Spring in a Small Town demonstrates the effect of these values on a Chinese woman in the post-war era: she must decide between following tradition by staying with her husband and leaving with the man she loves.