Latin for compassion, Pieta (2012) is a dark dramatic thriller, filled with volatile emotions, and people of monstrous intentions. The protagonist is a debt collector who prefers to cripple and torment those who are in debt. With a long list of people who want revenge on him, a woman appears, out if the blue, claiming to be his mother. Though Kang-Doh (Jung-Jin Lee) tries to push her away, his overall loneliness inside takes over and he allows her in. They bond and she offers him another way of life he had long thought lost to him. He develops a sense of humanity and it is heightened when things take a turn. In the end, Kang-Doh learns compassion and pity through one if the most difficult and life-changing lessons for him. Like a child, he reminds the audience if the inner darkness and desires in everyone’s hearts.
Being the 18th film of director Kim Ki-Duk, he underlines the theme if family and a journey to completion as he does in all of his films. Fortunately for the audience, Kim Ki-Duk sat down with an interpreter and answered questions from the audience after the AFI Fest screening of Pieta. The audience was enthralled and captivated by the malevolent performance of Jung-Jin Lee, the protagonist, and Min-Soo Jo, the female lead. Both portrayed their characters with beauty and grace, despite the dark circumstances each were in. It is no great wonder that Pieta won the Venice Film Festival given the spectacular use of storytelling without exposition or too much dialogue.
From the introduction of each character, regardless of the greatness of their roles, there were no unnecessary shots. Every so often, there would be breathing room for the audience to process what had just happened, but the story is compact, concise, and phenomenally woven together to have audiences on the edges of their seats in each scene. Whether it be a locked off shot or a moving shot, the story’s progression and the protagonist’s emotions played heavily into how the story is told by movement style. Along with the color and production design of the entire film, everything works together to create a very claustrophobic feeling that helps with the edginess and darkness of the film in relation to the characters.
During the Q&A session, Kim mentioned feeling a need to express family importance because of his passion about North and South Korea’s situation. In a metaphorical sense, he drew a picture of how important it would be for family to get along and support each other, which related to how he felt about North and South Koreans, and the unnecessary separation between them. Being of the same people, he was hurt to think about how guarded they were against each other, how sad it was that they believed each other a threat, and yet, their lives were not very different, and they were all Korean. Through this conversation, Kim referred to his past films, discussing the deep-rooted issues he hoped to address, while still telling a story that would be relevant to the world, not just Koreans.
For Asian filmmakers, I find it a common pattern to give the audience a sense of dread and then go in a completely different direction so as to surprise the audience, which is nice. But, as it is with many Asian films, everything is shown as it goes on, instead of withholding information from the audience so that they can experience what is going on without knowing what had happened. My best example is Fight Club (1999), when Edward Norton’s character is unaware of his true relation to Tyler Durden, the audience has no clue as well, and when Norton figures things out in the end, the audience is surprised and realizes, through a visual compilation of flashbacks, the truth of the matter as if in Norton’s position. In Pieta, Kim chooses to reveal everything, which removes the audience from the protagonist’s shoes, forever changing the relationship between the audience and the protagonist. In a voyeuristic manner, the audience knows everything and watches the puny protagonist struggle, without much connection to him. This pulled me out of the movie, but due to the deep themes, I was on the sidelines when it came to how I ought to feel in the end.
Tags: Film, film festival, international, Jung-Jin Lee, Kim Ki-duk, Min-Soo Jo, Pieta, the AFI Fest, the Venice Film Festival