Pieta


Oedipus has nothing on Kang-do.

Oedipus has nothing on Kang-do.

(2012) Drama (Drafthouse) Min-soo Jo, Jeong-jin Lee, Ki-Hong Woo, Eunjin Kang, Jae-ryong Cho, Myeong-ja Lee, Jun-seok Heo, Se-in Kwon, Mun-su Song, Beon-jun Kim, Jong-hak Son, Jin Yong-Ok, Jae-Rok Kim, Won-jang Lee. Directed by Ki-duk Kim

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The relationship between a mother and son is a crucial one. Without it (or with a toxic one) young men can feel lost, unloved, alone in the world. The psychological damage of a bad or non-existent relationship with a mother can be devastating.

That’s the situation that Kang-do (Jeong-jin Lee) has grown up with and grown up he has. He is a collector for loan sharks who have a particularly brutal policy; those who borrow must sign insurance policies that reimburse them in case of mutilation or crippling. If they fail to pay, Kang-do shows up and cripples them. The insurance money goes to his bosses.

Kang-do is a fella who takes pleasure in his work. When the wife of one of the men who he is collecting from offers sex in exchange for giving them an additional week to come up with the money, Kang-do allows her to strip then beats her with her own brassiere and cripples her husband anyway. Kang-do also does a good deal of masturbating and likes to smear animal entrails on the floor of his shower.

Then one day a mysterious woman shows up at his door. Her name is Mi-son (Min-soo Jo) and she claims to be the mother who abandoned him when he was a baby. At first, Kang-do disbelieves. She has paperwork but it really means nothing. So he asks her to prove it – by cutting off his big toe and having her eat it. Then he rapes her. Did I mention that this fellow is rather sick and twisted?

Slowly however her perseverance begins to overcome his reluctance and suspicion and a relationship is formed. He begins to realize that this is a relationship he has missed and now craves. His outlook begins to change. He is no longer able to do his job as effectively. He has grown a heart. But even as he accepts her, the audience remains suspicious. There is a freezer in an industrial space that she seems unusually attached to. What’s in that freezer – and what does she want of Kang-do?

The first half of this movie is non-stop violence and gore. It is – and let me be perfectly clear here – very disturbing, even for those who are used to disturbing Asian cinema. I’ve heard this film compared to No Country for Old Men and I’ll admit that there are some similar elements here – both films have a bleak undertone. However this film makes the American film look like a Disney film in tone by comparison.

The two leads have an insane kind of chemistry, the kind of warped relationship that is a car wreck you can’t look away from. Even though she knows what her son does for a living, she seems to accept it and even assists him in small ways on occasion. There are times you wonder if she is not more sociopathic than he is and he is about as amoral as they come.

One of the best things about the movie is the performance of the leads. Both Min-soo and Jeong-jin are completely believable and that’s necessary to make their twisted relationship come to life. Otherwise it’s more or less depravity on a stick – and we’ve seen plenty of those sorts of movies that confuse shock value for genuine emotion.

Director Ki-duk Kim grew up in the Cheonggyecheon area where this was filmed. It is a heavily industrialized zone where most of the residents are extremely impoverished. The landscapes are bleak and filled with trash and debris; it looks like a place where the people who live there have given up hope for anything better completely and have simply just adjusted to living in squalor and filth. The environment is very much a character in this film and despite the conditions you get the sense that Kim retains a great deal of affection for the place. The South Korean government, incidentally, have announced plans to completely redevelop the area so these images may well be the last the world sees of it as it is now.

The movie’s last half is much milder than the first in many ways, but there is a shocker at the film’s end as everything is tied together in a way that will simply take your breath away. I’ll just say that the denouement comes as inevitable but still you are unprepared for it.

The movie has had success on the film festival circuit and was South Korea’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar at the most recent Academy Awards although it didn’t make the final list. I’m not surprised – the first half of the movie may simply be too disturbing for Academy voters and I know a lot of  you will probably feel the same if you do take the chance to see it. I’ll tell you what a film buff friend of mine who saw it at the Florida Film Festival before I did told me – hang in there. It’s rough going in the first half but the second half is so worth it. I agree – and unless you are extremely sensitive to violence and sexuality, it is worth the rough stuff in the end.

REASONS TO GO: Riveting psychological study. Min-soo Jo and Jeong-jin Lee deliver riveting performances. The payoff is extraordinary.

REASONS TO STAY: Getting to the climax requires one to sit through scenes of brutality and cruelty that may be too much for some..

FAMILY VALUES:  Occasionally graphic violence, a good deal of sexuality, some very disturbing scenes, incest and bad language throughout the film.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Korean film to win the coveted Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; fairly decent reviews but some critics just can’t get past some of the more disturbing elements of the film.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oldboy

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The Rundown

Cyrus


Cyrus

Even Marisa Tomei finds the concept of falling for John C. Reilly amusing.

(Fox Searchlight) John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Katie Aselton, Tim Guinee, Steve Zissis, Jamie Donnelly, Diane Mizota, Kathy Ann Wittes, Charlie Brewer. Directed by the Duplass Brothers

In a simpler age, it was said a boy’s best friend was his mother. These days, that statement has creepy connotations, which is no doubt what inspired the making of this movie.

John (Reilly) is not a very happy guy. It’s been seven years since his wife divorced him (not his idea, as he very firmly points out) and ever since, he’s been in a shell. He rarely goes out, has few friends and as for a romantic life? Obviously not. Mostly, his only social contact is his ex-wife for whom he still carries a torch. She walks in on him masturbating to tell him the news that she’s getting re-married, which gives you an idea of what kind of movie this is going to be.

She badgers him to go to a party she’s throwing and at first, John isn’t keen on going. She has invited a lot of beautiful single girls and insists he goes so he can get on with his life (and by inference get out of hers). Finally he gives in and shows up, and it’s clear that he has no game whatsoever. As the night goes on, he continues to drink vodka and Red Bulls, getting progressively more sloshed and makes horrible attempts at small talk with disinterested, even to the point where he opens up to a woman (Wittes) about how desperate and lonely he is, sending her fleeing as far away from him as she can get.

He is overheard by Molly (Tomei), who can relate being also desperate and lonely. The two meet each other while John is urinating in the bushes (oh, the romance!) and she deflects the awkwardness of the situation by saying the only thing a woman can say that won’t cause the man to wish he were a thousand miles away – “Nice penis.”

From such things great romances are born, and Molly and John spend the night together. Soon, they are seeing each other seriously despite John’s misgivings about his looks (“I’m, like, Shrek!”) but John is a little concerned that she always leaves his bed in the middle of the night. One night, he follows her and finds out where she lives. He discovers she has a grown son named Cyrus (Hill) who lives at home and is working on a New Age music career.

Cyrus is welcoming enough at first but it becomes clear that he has another agenda in mind. For one thing, Cyrus is extremely possessive of his mom and doesn’t want to compete for her affection. In fact, the two are so close it’s kind of creepy; apparently Cyrus was still being breastfed when he was about, I think, eight. Years, that is – not months.

The Duplass Brothers are noted as leading artists in the “mumblecore” filmmaking movement, which is more evident in their previous features Puffy Chair and Baghead. This movie isn’t mumblecore per se, but it has some of the elements of it – like the jerky camera movements and the sudden zoom ins and zoom outs that become really annoying after awhile. It’s all part of the “Look, Ma, I’m Directing” syndrome that often affects filmmakers who have been too much on the indie circuit.

This has romantic comedy elements too, and unfortunately they are the same ones that have made American romantic comedies mostly forgettable and lame. The movie’s ending is very predictable, to the point of making me want to pound my head against the wall.

What saves the movie is the premise and the execution, as well as the acting of the three leads. Reilly and Tomei are two very likable actors and even though they’re playing very flawed characters here, they make you root for them despite those flaws. Reilly is so rumpled and beaten down you wonder what a hottie like Tomei would see in him until you find out how beaten down she is. They’re kindred spirits, which makes the romance all the more acceptable.

Jonah Hill has played some oddball characters in his time, and this is one of the oddest. Cyrus is at once pathetic and shrewd, able to play his mother like a Stradivarius. In many ways their relationship symbolizes a lot of the problems with modern parenting, the permissiveness and clinginess that many parents feel towards their children. If that was the intent of the Duplass brothers, then a big ol’ Bravo to them.

The movie is definitely creepy in places and awkward in others. Watching it is not unlike walking in on a married couple having a big fight; the longer you stay, the more awkward it feels. In some ways, I like being thrown off-balance that way – it makes for a more memorable cinematic experience. However, those who feel uncomfortable at the expression of raw emotions should stand warned that they might find it too awkward.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. The three key leads all turn in solid work.

REASONS TO STAY: Self-consciously indie combined with rom-com clichés make it an uphill climb at times to like this movie. The forced focus and montage sequences became tiresome.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a fair amount of bad language and a little bit of sexuality. Some of the situations are decidedly uncomfortable concerning the mother-son relationship.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott served as producers on the movie, through their production company Scott Free.

HOME OR THEATER: While worth seeing in the theater, this certainly will work at home if you’d so prefer.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: G-Force