Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su, Kang Eun-jin, Woo Gi-hong, Cho Jae-ryong, Lee Myeong-ja, Heo Jun-seok, Kwon Se-in, Song Mun-su, Kim Beom-jun, Son Jong-hak, Jin Yong-ok, Kim Seo-hyeon, Yu Ha-bok, Seo Jae-gyeong, Kim Jae-rok, Lee Won-jang, Kim Sun-mo, Kang Seung-hyeon and Hwang Sun-hui
Those who are familiar with South Korean cinema, knows about director Kim Ki-duk. And those who knows about Kim Ki-duk also knows how brutal, disturbing and stark his movies can be. Studies of tortured souls and use of violence, sex and metaphors together are apparent in his work. Pieta was the surprise winner of Golden Lion last year at Venice Film Festival where the jury president, Michael Mann said that it as a movie that seduces you viscerally and he is not wrong at that. I still cannot make my mind on this film, what was it? The word 'Pieta' is a reference to the the depiction of Virgin Mary holding the corpse of Jesus Christ. Pieta has Christian symbolism mixed with brutal and highly sexual psychological study of sorts wrapped around the socio-political landscape of South Korea. Nothing is straight forward here, at first that is. This 18th feature film from Kim Ki-duk depicts a weird relationship between a man and a woman. Lee Kang-do lives alone, he is a heartless person whose job is to get the debtors repay his clients, they demand high interest in return. Those who take the loan are made to sign an insurance for handicap and Kang-do brutally injures them to file the claim. One regular day, a strange middle-aged woman, Jang Mi-sun, visits him and claims that she is his long-lost mother who left him. The man doesn't believes her of course, she still follows him everywhere without giving up. Tale of Oedipal complex, economically challenged people, brutality and redemption, revenge, it is all these things and more. The most interesting thing about Pieta is the mysterious woman, the relationship that is built between her and the guy. She makes her way to his home and practically starts living with him. She cooks for him, takes care of his household, follow him to his work and would see what he is doing. Kang-do has long lost any spark of humanity and good-will that existed in him. He grew up and started earning on his own. There are scenes that will test your patience. Kang-do shoving his hand into the woman's private part. Asking her "I came out of here? Can I go back in?". A scene involving the woman giving Kang-do a hand job when he is asleep. The most brutal scene between them however involves the man feeding his flesh from his thigh to the woman. Yes!
The first half is very successful in just laying out all the points, I was really looking forward to where this will go. The amount of brutality that is on display in this movie couldn't disgust me when it was all happening in such a harrowing context. So many suicides happen, many hands and legs are completely broken with the very thing those poor people work with. Money is an important thing in one's life for sure. These days it is the most important, without it you cannot survive. God forbid if you have to ask for it from people. People these days can do anything for money, it is an obsession. The rich and powerful are getting more richer while the poor people have to suffer the worst. One overpowers others and we have such situations where people are willing to sell everything, including their own bodies and soul. Pieta is a study of how far one can go for money and for love. It is very effective for most of the part. But then something happens and it takes a turn so conventional that whatever this movie built in its first half just falls apart. Not an expert on Kim Ki-duk but I am sure this is his first film to come very close to a genre-exercise. The typical Korean revenge odyssey that the country is very famous for. It leaves a weird taste in your mouth and you begin to wonder what was the point of everything then? The shamefully typical turn brings the viscerally astounding aspect to a halt and whatever intense study that this movie was providing, goes into vein. After the very repetitive and drained second half, the only thing that you will remember for days is its ending. You wont be able to shake it off, one of the most haunting and powerful endings I have seen in years. Pieta is very compelling in parts and then nearly below average in others. I couldn't really move along with the sudden shift, it wasn't subtle. Not that I was looking for subtlety here but if it was meant to be this way then the ambiguity at the start, along with director's addition of too many philosophies were for nothing but to increase the movie's worth as an art flick that had something to say. All it ends up saying is that people are willing to go to sickening lengths for money, revenge, love and there is no way "love" itself has any role to play in it.
The woman's motherly nature, her love and her affection for this heartless person slowly starts working. Kang-do begins to change and develops feelings. He starts looking at things in different ways. That point in the movie is happy-ish, only time that it is. But little does he knows that there is a bigger shark that is going to eat him up. The very narrative turn sounds so conventional on paper, Pieta doesn't really go for profound albeit disturbing, shocking and shattering psycho/sociological study but just gives up somewhere. Jo Min-su, the actress gives a very good performance. She hardly speaks at all but her performance is so effective. She brilliantly portrays her character's desperation, you can see that but it is of a deceptive nature without going in the spoiler territory. Lee Jung-jin was fine in the movie, playing this evil thug. The cinematography is stark and earthy. The movie takes place in too much industrial sort of landscape, dull colors and desperate living. There are moments of melodramatic instances with the music and everything and it is quite understandable that the mixture of that with other brutal elements evokes an odd sense of heartbreak in you. If only Pieta knew what it was going for and had a better understanding of its elements, the movie would have been a much better experience. Uneven and effective, Korean cinema fans will still like this movie based on how much they are willing to forgive the shortcomings of this film.