Korean Movie Review – Pieta (피에타)

While Park Chan-wook (“Stoker,” 2013) and Kim Jee-woon (“The Last Stand,” 2013) might be the current directorial faces of Korean cinema after having made their Hollywood debuts, Kim Ki-duk is arguably the most critically acclaimed. Even if he hadn’t won awards at some of the world’s most prominent film festivals (including Cannes and Berlin), he is certainly the most prolific, having directed 18 films in a little over 16 years. His latest film is “Pieta,” a brutal look at the relationship between a mother and son in the midst of Korea’s criminal underworld. The work went on to win the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival — an achievement that marks the first time a Korean film has won the top prize at one of the three biggest film festivals in Europe.

The film follows Kang-do, a vicious loan shark. If you don’t repay your debt, which is a rather likely fate given the excessive amount of interest he charges, he will either break your legs, cut off a hand or throw you off a building so his boss can claim your insurance money as a way to cover what is owed.

Kang-do is ruthless and unemotional, but seems content in his simplistic daily routine. His life is complicated by the appearance of a woman who claims to be his mother who abandoned him as a child.

“Pieta” takes its name from the sculpture by Michelangelo that depicts the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus. Once you’ve seen the film, it becomes clear why Kim chose “Pieta” for the title, but the relationship between this particular mother and son differs greatly from that portrayed in Michelangelo’s masterpiece. This is a brutal, almost unwatchable relationship, as Kang-do challenges his mother to prove herself in some disturbing ways.

The film is shot in typical Kim Ki-duk style: simple, with long, uninterrupted takes allowing his actors to shine. And shine they do, with Jo Min-su winning several awards for her portrayal of the tortured Jang Mi-sun.

It has been suggested that, despite the film’s art-house exterior, “Pieta” is ultimately nothing more than a generic Korean revenge movie. I think this claim is absurd. Yes, the film does change from a slow-burning character study into what could be perceived to be a revenge piece, but the film is so much more than that. As the plot slowly unfolds, the motivations of the main characters are significantly blurred to the point where we are very unsure of what exactly we should be feeling or with whom we should be siding. Right up to the final moments, Kim plays with our expectations, leaving the viewer shocked, upset and possibly confused.

“Pieta” is an unsettling yet highly rewarding film that is widely available on DVD now.


Categories: Reviews


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: