A clever drifter, a battered wife, a motorcycle, stacks of carry-out menus and a 3-iron golf club; these are the central figures in this fascinating less-is-more film from South Korean writer-director Kim Ki-duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring). With the hero uttering nary a word, and his consort speaking a mere two lines, Kim proves that silence speaks volumes.
The young drifter, Tae-suk (Jae Hee), whose angelic face is betrayed by eyes that flash with mischief, spends his days plastering those annoying take-out menus door-to-door in rich and poor neighborhoods alike. He later returns to the homes and apartments, and when he finds a menu still attached to a door, he picks the lock and helps himself to the place for a while.
Like a good scout — except for the breaking and entering bit, and using strangers’ toothbrushes — Tae-suk leaves his temporary homes better than he found them. He does laundry, tidies up and does a little Mr. Fix-It work before moving on to his next stop. He goes on like this unaware of what happens — good or bad — when the owners return.
Because Kim prevents Tae-suk from speaking, the young man’s mundane routines take center stage. The sounds of cooking, showering, scrubbing, and clinking objects are stark, mesmerizing us with Jae’s every movement, casually performed without any fear of discovery.
As Tae-suk explores the households and makes himself at home, Kim delivers voyeurism at its best, leaving us to wonder about the lives of the people who live there. Their photographs, personal belongings and answering machine messages become clues. Happy couples, playboys, lonely old men, broken marriages — all these lives are thrown wide-open beyond the picked locks.
Tae-suk’s phantom existence is compromised after he rescues a battered housewife and former model, Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), who is unexpectedly still home during one of his home invasions. He uses a 3-iron to take down her brute of a husband, and the two flee. Both broken people, they drift together in a silent and idyllic — albeit misguided — B&E binge, which clearly can’t continue forever.
3-Iron is strange and sometimes witty but not forced, unlike so many indie flicks that aim for offbeat just for the sake of being offbeat. Kim’s prowess as a writer and director is impressive; he wields comedy and romance as subtly as drama and violence. Everything is presented with an airy, soft touch.
Even the long stretches of silence don’t feel gimmicky or contrived. Words, it seems, would have just got in the way.
In Korean with English subtitles. Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.