Movie Review: Pieta
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
First things first: Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s “Pietà” is a relentlessly brutal movie, as stomach- and soul-churning as anything you are likely to see this year.
The 2012 South Korean film, picked up for distribution by Drafthouse Films, takes place in a hideous world of barely organized crime, suicide, sexual violence, stalking, twisted Christian images, eating very unpleasant things indeed and good old-fashioned Oedipal horror. Ahem.
And yet, “Pietà” took the Golden Lion prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival for a reason. Shot in rugged HD, it’s a nasty, compelling thriller if you have the stomach, perhaps not as profound as it wants us to think it is, but sharply realized nonetheless.
Kang-do (the rather heartthrob-ish Lee Jung-jin), with his skinny frame, messy hair and black, semi-military jacket, is an enforcer for a loan shark and a savagely effective one at that. His shtick is disabling folks behind on their loans to collect on the insurance. Or maybe a sexualized beating would be OK. He is a truly horrible human being, a ruiner of lives of the first order.
When a local woman named Min-sun (Jo Min-soo, absolutely hypnotic) starts following him through Cheonggyecheon, a gnarly semi-industrial Seoul neighborhood of metal shutters over closed shops, tight alleys and small, dank factories, Kang-do is intrigued, especially when the woman insists she is his long-lost mother, the woman who abandoned him as an infant.
For Kang-do, the only things that make sense are power and violence. Her worth, her truthfulness, actually, are determined by what she is willing to endure. And man alive, he puts her through far more than can be discussed here.
Unfortunately for Kang-do’s body (but perhaps fortunately for his soul?), these sorts of feelings might be making him go a bit soft — he even shows a bit of mercy on someone who wants to make a better life for his child. This is not the sort of thing an enforcer should be doing, even one as horrible as Kang-do, and some of his victims start thinking it might be time for a little revenge.
And yes, true to the film’s title (a reference to the classic pose of Mary holding the lifeless Christ), “Pietà” is rife with Christian allegories and images including one of the most literal translations of Holy Communion put to film. Kang-do and Min-sun’s relationship, by turns sadistic and tender, powers “Pietà.” As it should.
Just don’t let Kang-do make you a snack. Ever.