Film: Bin-Jip (3-Iron)
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.
I’m not someone who watches a lot of romances. In today’s world of films, “romance” tends to mean romantic comedy, and based on the last however many years, romantic comedy tends to mean predictable and stupid. I’m even less likely to rush out and purchase a romantic film. So it comes as something of a surprise and out of character that I went out and purchased a copy of Bin-Jip (3-Iron) shortly after watching it the first time. Admittedly, I purchased it from a Blockbuster going out of business, but nonetheless, I wanted a copy after seeing it.
Kim Ki-duk’s film is an unusual one, to say the least. The main protagonist, Tae-suk (Hyun-kyoon Lee) is a silent man who spends his day putting up flyers for restaurants on the front doors of houses and apartments. Later, he returns to neighborhoods he has canvassed and looks for houses that still hold the flyer. When he finds one, he breaks in and lives there for a couple of days, eating the occupants’ food and sleeping in their beds. He repays their unwitting and unplanned hospitality by doing small things around the house for them. He fixes small appliances, waters the plants, and does their laundry.
Things change when he breaks into a large mansion. Tae-suk believes he is alone, but he is not; he is being observed by the woman of the house, Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee). Sun-hwa shows evidence of having been beaten—her face is bruised and her lip is cut. After a day or so, she finally (and silently) confronts Tae-suk. He leaves, but thinks better of it and returns, only to observe her being beaten and humiliated by her husband, Min-gyu (Hyuk-ho Kwan). Rather than specifically intrude on the scene, Tae-suk attracts the man’s attention by using his golf clubs in the back yard. When Min-gyu goes to confront him, Tae-suk turns and starts hitting golf balls into the man with his 3-iron. He leaves, and Sun-hwa follows him, and the two ride off together.
Their life together settles into a familiar and happy rhythm. They follow his daily life, breaking and entering, but taking nothing. Things change initially for them when they are discovered by one couple. Things change again when they find the owner of a house dead on his floor. Not knowing what to do, Tae-suk and Sun-hwa proceed to bury the man with a great amount of respect, but are confronted by the man’s daughter and son-in-law, and are arrested. Tae-guk is charged with murder, kidnapping, breaking and entering, and several other crimes.
If the film wasn’t weird up to this point, here is where it takes a turn for the very bizarre. In prison, Tae-guk develops a skill of essentially becoming a ghost. While still a flesh-and-blood creature, he slowly learns to hide in plain sight, becoming undetectable unless he wishes to be seen. In most respects, he becomes a creature of almost pure spirit. He uses this ability to win his freedom, and returns to Sun-hwa and her husband for a most unusual confrontation.
There are aspects of this film that I find difficult to parse out into something meaningful. Tae-suk, for instance, steals Min-gyu’s 3-iron and a golf ball. He puts a piece of wire through the golf ball and ties it around trees. He then spends a great deal of time just hitting that golf ball. Sun-hwa sometimes stands in front of him when he does this, preventing him from swinging the club. This almost has the feeling of a courtship ritual, like she is offering herself to him. This occurs until one day when the ball goes shooting off the wire and strikes a young woman in a car, quite possibly killing her. After this, Tae-suk stops swinging the club, and the two consummate their relationship.
The most interesting part of the film is something I have only lightly touched on. These characters don’t talk. Sun-hwa speaks only a couple of lines at the end of the film and Tae-suk never speaks at all. Their courtship, romance, and relationship is entirely silent, almost as if they are connected at a deeper level mentally and emotionally rather than through mere physical communication. It’s surprising effective and moving to see these characters find each other in this way and make this strong bond with each other without dialogue getting in the way.
For a romantic film, the sudden bursts of violence are shocking. They are also effective and nicely used. The moments of violence are effective for the simple reason that they are so basic. The violence happens naturally, but often with little warning.
This is a beautiful film, one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen, and few shots compare with the power of the final shot of the film. It’s uplifting and gorgeous, and remains one of my favorite memories in the film.
In short, this is a tremendous and beautiful film that demands not only to be watched, but to be studied. All movies should strive to challenge. It really is that special.
Why to watch Bin-Jip: Romance has never been this unusual.
Why not to watch: Romance hasn’t been this silent in 80 years.