Directors’ Showcase / UK premiere

Breath

  • Kim Ki-duk /
  • South Korea /
  • 2007 /
  • 84 mins

Chang Chen, Zia

Another hushed, quirky romance from the prolific South Korean master.

It’s one of the weirder quirks of male/female interaction that violent murderers attract such impassioned fans. The American serial killers Richard Ramirez and Ted Bundy had groupies who attended their court cases. Ian Huntley, imprisoned for the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, reportedly receives stacks of mail from admirers on the outside. Research into this phenomenon suggests a variety of motivating factors: sexual masochism; the desire to vicariously release suppressed violent instincts, or simply to offload social strictures; the need to replace an abusive father or previous partner; the intense appreciation and desire available from a man denied his freedom; or simply the fact that you (probably) already know the worst about a convicted killer.

These possibilities all play into the relationship at the heart of Kim Ki-duk’s tender, eccentric chamber piece. Yeon (Zia) fixates upon multiple murderer Jang Jin (Chang Chen) after hearing a report about him on the news. Confined to death row, he has attempted suicide by stabbing himself in the throat with a sharpened toothbrush. As if sleepwalking, Yeon heads to the hospital, where she visits Jang Jin, and regales him with a story about how she almost died as a child by holding her breath for too long underwater. Yeon’s early brush with death has left her irresistibly drawn to the brink of oblivion; she’s physically aroused by the idea of not being able to breathe. It’s hard to imagine her blandly handsome, unsympathetic husband (Ha Jeong-woo) doing much to satisfy this side of Yeon’s nature. But clearly her romantic side has been starved too: as she goes on visiting Jang Jin, her other service is to decorate their meeting room with flowers and pictures themed after the seasons of the year. Oh, and to sing little songs to him.

As love affairs in Kim Ki-duk movies go, this isn’t the strangest (that honour probably goes to the lovers in The Isle, who shared a bit of a thing about fish hooks). But this fourteenth feature by Kim forms an intriguing and challenging extension of what would appear to be his ongoing project: the exploration through allegory of the inexpressible nuances that can bond two personalities.
Hannah McGill

2007 Archive

Image from Breath

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