Category Archives: 3-Iron

3-Iron Film Review

3-Iron Film Review

Korean director Kim Ki-Duk’s 2004 film 3-Iron revolves around the lives of the two main characters: Tae-Suk, a young homeless Korean man played by Jae Hee and Sun-Hwa the wife of a rich Korean businessman played by Lee Seung-yeon. Kim Ki-Duk’s choice to include little dialogue and disregard the house as an enclosed space makes 3-Iron much more than the typical Asian love drama. Seen as different from the norm, 3-Iron is critically acclaimed among the international community, winning, numerous awards at international film festivals; including the “Little Golden Lion” award at the 2004 Venice Film Festival.

The homeless Tae-Suk has a habit of breaking into houses. He does this by placing menus over the door lock and returns later that day to see if it is still over the lock. If it is, he will pick the lock and stay at the house until the owners return. However, while he is there Tae-Suk does not steal anything; instead he folds and washes clothes and fixes appliances around the house. After breaking into one such house, he encounters Sun-Hwa only to find that she has been beaten by her husband. The two run off together and she joins him as they break into other houses. The romantic subplot between the two evolves without a word being said, something unique to this film.

Kim presents these houses as reflective of various socioeconomic standing to give a broader sense of who Koreans are. He goes to great lengths by filling the houses and rooms with items reminiscent of the owners. In this way, Kim creates a very interesting critique of Koreans of various classes, as well as gender through Tae-Suk and Sun-Hwa’s movement through space. He does this by using Tae-Suk and Sun-Hwa to present a variety of families with different socioeconomic standings and values.

Other characters are developed more than either Tae-Suk or Sun-Hwa with a predominant focus on Sun-Hwa’s husband. Kim’s representation of Sun-Hwa’s husband seems to be the strongest critique of Korean culture. As a successful independent male, it is clear Kim doesn’t have a positive opinion of the hyper-masculine values that Sun-Hwa’s husband embodies. This is shown as Kim makes a conscious effort to portray an abusive husband who has no redeeming qualities. This is hinted at just as much by his physical abuse of Sun-Hwa as is his emotional abuse of Sun-Hwa. This criticism is accentuated by Sun-Hwa’s silence and the photos around the room showing a different Sun-Hwa.  When she finally strikes back, marking a change in social values, their relationship changes to give Sun-Hwa more power.

Kim’s decisions as a director makes 3-iron much more than another love drama such as  moving the main characters through various spaces and having little dialogue,  3-Iron is just as much a social critique as it is a love drama.

A review of 3-Iron

The Triangle
The Triangle

A unique and heartwarmingly beautiful drama, Kim Ki-Duk’s 3-Iron, otherwise known in Korea as “Bin-Jip” (Empty House), tells a cliché story of the love triangle that is characteristic of almost every romantic drama. However, while employing this cliché, the film also goes much deeper, exploring the relationship of a woman caught between two male figures (the woman’s husband and a young drifter), and their opposing views and attitudes. As such, the film is anything but cliché. Through Kim’s artistic film style, the classical interpretation and ending of a love triangle is subverted. In this way, 3-Iron establishes itself as a film that transcends the boundaries of the genre and becomes a much more artistic film.

Known for his “art house” cinematic style, Kim Ki Duk is a Korean director well known throughout the international film festival circuit. After studying fine arts in Paris, Kim gained fame in his native Korea before launching to international acclaim with his films for their artistic quality. However, while his art-house films like 3-Iron, were well regarded on the global stage, the film did not do so well back home. In fact, the nature of the art-house film, that of being not mainstream and subverting commercial and studio interests is paralleled in the plot of the film itself. The film’s transcendence of the archetypal love triangle is a direct result of the style.

One of the most obvious differences seen in the film is Kim’s expert use of silence. Throughout the film, the wife, played by Seung-yeon Lee, is almost entirely silent with her husband. This is expertly paired with the behavior of her abusive husband (Hyuk-ho Kwan), who talks almost incessantly to her. While the husband speaks constantly, his words are empty and have no meaning; a parallel of the couples’ lifeless and unhappy marriage. In fact, the husband is so bent on speaking that he often takes his wife’s silence as an affront, a point of conflict within the film. This is juxtaposed with the relationship between Lee and the young drifter (Hyun-kyoon Lee) in which there are almost no words exchanged. Yet, while they do not speak, their relationship is much more connected and egalitarian. In this way, the male characters are representations of opposing views, in this sense, of “love.” One with words and one without.

Another theme that is omnipresent is that of violence. Throughout the film, from the battered body of the wife, to the various “fights” within the film, violence is a repeated image. Yet, the two males’ approach to violence again ties back to the idea of opposition. In the film, the husband views violence as a form of discipline, often referring to it to rectify what he perceives as the erroneous behaviors of his wife and others. By contrast, the drifter views violence as a method of justice and vengeance. While the two characters have drastically different views on the intent behind their justice, they seem to hold a common thread. Both men are tied to violence as they believe it to be “right” in some way. Similarly, both men are tied to Lee’s character. It is through this complex relationship of opposing views that 3-Iron separates itself from the canon of romantic dramas such as The Notebook.

However, it is not just the characters representations that separate the film from the canon. Rather, the actor’s acting styles themselves aid in this idea of opposition. Hyun-koon Lee delivers an enigmatically silent depiction of the drifter. With his emphasis on facial expressions, body movements and his lack of speech, you believe that this is a man who is not the stereotypical lover in the triangle. Similarly, Hyuk-ho Kwan, delivers a charged performance as the husband. Dripping with anger from the very moment you hear his voice, the husbands’ character is given a life of its own, that of violence and domination. Through these two opposing acting styles, the film presents viewers with a spin on the love triangle that is much more intense.

In summation Kim’s 3-Iron takes a common cinematic trope of the love triangle, and amps it up with his artistic vision. Through his use of the overarching theme of opposing views of the male characters, he dramatizes the love triangle and creates a more voyeuristic and artistic love story that leaves viewers constantly wanting to look over their shoulders.



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.

3-Iron Review

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.