There are films one can rewatch for the sake of pleasure. There are films one chooses to rewatch for the sake of memory. And then, there are films so compelling that force you to rewatch them to make sure your first interpretation was right, and that that teeny tiny little detail so crucial to the plot, min 23:40, didn’t go unnoticed.
And then, there are films I simply wander away from. I have nothing against romance. I just don’t watch it because it’s lame, lamer, the lamest. The superfluous use of words and gestures, the clichés, the roses, the over-the-top music. The happy endings full of love or the tragic death that leaves you empty after a torturous hour and a half in the hands of gleaming smiles and eternal love promises.
Kim Ki-duk [known for: Godsend] muted and dissolved all of this in his 2004 creative take on a romantic tale, which seems to rely solely on excellent acting performances, inferring stares and delicate body language rather than scripts, sounds and scores. 3-Iron, or Empty House in Korean, is a most calming and subtle film, despite touching on some of the deepest issues of our existence: materialism, human essence, society, love, possessiveness, abuse, delusion, distraction, freedom.
The story revolves around bodies occupying houses. Tae-suk (Jae Hee) is a young minimalist drifter, handing out flyers in the mornings and occupying empty houses at night. Never stealing a thing, rather the opposite. His silent routine and life are bound to change upon entering the mansion of model Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon) and her abusive husband Min-kyu (Kwon Hyuk-ho). Cradling a 3 iron golf club, Tae-suk attacks the abusive husband, and Sun-hwa follows him to rediscover herself and a world without words. Language is simply unnecessary between the two lovers, just as all the other possessions that contemporary society hoards and lives off. An unfortunate discovery, though, sends Tae-suk to jail and Sun-hwa back to her past shackles. But for how long?
Is the body the real confinement, or can the mind transcend the boundaries of reality and walk unburdened upon earth? Does a golf club exist or not? Can a bathroom scale point to zero when cradling two bodies?
The original Korean title might reveal the answer to these questions. In the director’s own words, “We are all empty houses, waiting for someone to open the lock and set us free”. However, you’ll need to answer for yourself all the other questions you’ve subconsciously accumulated while sitting – speechless – in front of your screen.