3-Iron (2004) Review

"3-Iron" Korean Theatrical Poster

"3-Iron" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Writer: Kim Ki-Duk
Producer: Kim Ki-Duk
Cast: Lee Seung-Yeon, Jae Hee, Kwon Hyeok-Ho
Running Time: 90 min.

By Alexander

Albeit difficult, it’s possible to tell a compelling story without the use of dialogue. While I’m fond of movies that balance exciting imagery with snappy conversation–like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Pedro Amaldovar’s Talk to Her and William Golding’s Princess Bride, to name a few favorites–there is the occasional tale that manages to effectively unfold solely through visuals and plotting.

For example, issue number 21 of Marvel’s G.I. Joe comic book offers one of the best examples of dialogue-less storytelling I’ve ever seen. Larry Hama’s tale of Snake-Eyes’s attempts to rescue a captured Scarlett from Destro’s fortress–a fortress defended by the mysterious ninja Storm Shadow–is suspenseful, moving and intelligent…and there’s nary a word on any of the 32 pages. To date, it remains one of my favorite stories in ANY medium, and proves that good exposition, character development, conflict and plotting could be achieved solely through strong and confident imagery and a writer’s trust in their characters.

So what does Kim Ki-Duk’s 3-Iron have to do with a 20-year old issue of G.I. Joe? Ki-Duk’s 3-Iron is three or four pages of script away from being completely dialogue-less, much like Hama’s “Silent Interlude.” Like Ki-Duk’s far inferior The Isle, which is also almost conversation-free, 3-Iron’s story unfolds through the actions of its pair of main characters. In 3-Iron, the two leads interact in mutually acceptable silence. We’re required to frequently suspend our disbelief as there’s very little to indicate that these two speak even when the camera ISN’T on them.

But somehow it works.

It works, I think, because the film remains grounded in reality throughout and doesn’t veer into magical realism or, in the case of DDK’s The Isle, flat-out absurdity. No very old men with enormous wings or gigantic drowned men washing ashore in 3-Iron. No, just a pair of quiet partners who break into homes to escape whatever skeletons threaten their psyches. Even the young man’s ninja-like stealth late in the film is believable as he’s already proven to be an expert lockpick, skilled chef, proficient golfer, and all-around handyman.

I was prepared to dislike 3-Iron even as I was placing the disk into its tray in the DVD player. I hated The Isle and was expecting much of the same. But Lee Seung-Yeon and Jae Hee, the leads, are perfect in their roles. And while I didn’t love the characters they play (one’s a bordeline psycho vagabond and the other a submissive enabler), I felt sorry enough for each to be interested in their fates.

Is 3-Iron perfect? Far from it. The dialogue that IS spoken is stilted and clichéd. There’s also a moment in the middle of the film that deserves follow-up because of its enormity, but it’s quickly forgotten, which disappointed me. There’s also a smidgen of ambiguity late in the film that’s entirely unnecessary, but I appreciated DDK’s restraint as the ending of his The Isle is one of the most absurd I’ve ever seen.


Alexander’s Rating: 8.5/10 (Alexander’s Rating for G.I. JOE #21: 10/10)

By Equinox21

Yet another one of Kim Ki-Duk’s films in which the main characters don’t speak throughout the entire film is 3 Iron. Though, don’t think verbal dialogue is at all needed. Kim has stated that the reason he doesn’t have many of his main characters speak is because he knows that international audiences are a large portion of his base of fans, and he doesn’t want his films to be mistranslated (and thus misunderstood) when playing overseas. This allows him to put much more emphasis on physical and other nonverbal communications between his characters. They simply don’t need to speak in order to get along fine. That doesn’t mean the characters are mutes, it simply means they don’t speak while on camera (in a few scenes in a couple of his movies, characters can be seen on the phone or picking up a phone as though they’re going to call someone). This all yields one of his most visually striking and emotionally touching films yet.

The story revolves around a guy who breaks into homes of people who are out of town. He lives there for the night, eats some of the food, watches some TV, fixes various broken things and cleans up in the morning before leaving to head to the next house. Meanwhile the only things he takes from the homes are photos of himself with his digital camera. One day he enters a home that he believes to be empty only to find a battered wife still inside. He leaves quickly, only to stop and think about it before returning. When the abusive husband returns, the young guy beats him (by hitting golf balls into him with a 3 Iron) and leaves with the wife. From there, they continue the habit of breaking into homes, only now there are two of them. When they stumble upon a home of an old man who had died, they run into trouble. That’s when it gets really strange.

3 Iron is far less graphic (that is to say, not graphic at all) than Kim Ki-Duk’s other films. All of his films I’ve seen, thus far, have had some sort of crime committed or taboo touched on (child prostitution in Samaria, animal cruelty and murder in The Isle, murder in Spring, Summer, etc.), not so with 3 Iron. This film is a simple love story, with people doing strange things (like becoming virtually invisible in the middle of a room). It’s a terrifically enjoyable film that anyone can and everyone should watch.

Equinox21’s Rating: 9/10

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2 Responses to 3-Iron (2004) Review

  1. Arthur says:

    One of Kim Ki Duk’s (“The Isle”, “Samaritan Girl”, “Bad Guy”) most powerful films and a must-see. 9/10

  2. Annamaria says:

    I’ve seen Legend of the Fist last week and I’d have to say don’t keep your hopes up . sure, everything from the cutosme/set designs and the camera angles were done nicely, but the problem is the storyline. they didn’t even bother explaining how Chen Zhen survived the end of Fist of Fury . the only thing you’re told is that he survived and spent time away from China fighting a war in France.

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