Unrated (violence, sex, strong language, mature themes); 104 min.
South Korean cinema has made great strides in recent years, establishing a reputation for darkly provocative and violently visceral films that seem at odds with the countrys industrious, Asian tiger reputation. Nowhere is that more true than in the latest from director Kim Ki Duk, Pieta, the first Korean film to win the Venice Film Festivals prestigious Golden Lion Award.
Set in a rundown district near central Seouls Cheonggyecheon area, where the wonders of the Samsung economy seem to have passed everyone by, it centers on a thug, Gang Do (Jeong Jin Lee), who makes a living as an enforcer for a local loan shark. But he doesnt just threaten the struggling businessmen who are his bosss stock-in-trade, nor does he kill them if they dont pay. Instead, he maims them a crushed hand or leg will do to collect the insurance money. Debt cleared, case closed.
Gang Dos life has settled into a dull, if vicious, routine until a strange woman, Mi Son (Min Soo Jo), shows up claiming to be his mother. It turns out Gang Do never knew his parents and as Mi Son ingratiates herself into his life, giving him someone to care about, it begins to affect his work.
There are many genuinely disturbing moments in Pieta (named after the famous Christian works of art where Mary weeps over the body of Jesus), a couple of which conjure up the word Oedipal. While the worst of the violence may be offscreen, theres such a sense of dread and tension that the intensity of those scenes is magnified.
The films big reveal may not come as that much of a surprise; you may figure out where its going well before the end. But its the getting there that is, if not exactly fun, then certainly hypnotic.
In Korean with English subtitles
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas