There's nothing like a challenge. Making a film in which the central
character speaks not a word of dialogue qualifies as one. It is also an
effective device to hold your attention -- just to see if an utterance
finally emerges from the silence. Well, I'm not going to give anything away,
but I can tell you that this film, by Korean writer-director Ki-duk Kim
("Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring") more or less meets the
challenge. But the appeal of it hangs by a thread.
Tae-suk (Hyun-kyoon Lee), a nice looking young man, has a beautiful, fairly
new motorcycle but no place of his own to live. He does, however, have a
lock pick, and a rather freaky method to find shelter each night. His job
(not necessarily a legitimate one) is to tape restaurant advertisements to
the front doors of houses and apartments on a street of his choosing.
Returning the next day, the doors that still have the promo sheets attached
are, likely as not, empty.
Putting his lock picking skill to work, he enters his chosen house and plays
the phone machine. If the outgoing message refers to the owners being on
vacation or away on business, he takes possession of the place for the night.
It's not just idle squatting. To satisfy his own sense of morality, he fixes
everything in sight, does laundry by hand, and, generally, leaves the place
better than he found it. He also photographs himself against pictures or
furnishings for his digital scrapbook.
One day, the genial freeloader enters a home that meets all the specs. He
occupies it in the usual way, checking it out, taking a bath. Only it is
occupied, and the woman of the house, Sun-hwa (Seung-yeon Lee), attractive,
bearing facial bruises, watches him in fascination before making her presence
Belligerent phone calls from her husband leaves little doubt that she's a
battered wife, but that's about to change. Tae-suk, once realizing that the
lady is not kicking him out, goes about his strange ways, with Sun-hwa
observing from a distance in a state of awe.
Hubby Min-Kyu (Hyuk-ho Kwon) comes home with his usual nasty disposition but
without noticing the strange man using his golf game out on the patio lawn.
When he starts manhandling his wife, his own 3-iron is going to teach him a
thing or two about abuse. Once Tae-suk dents the old man's head like a cheap
golf ball, Tae-suk and Sun-hwa make tracks out of there and soon occupy
another empty home. She's a total partner in the routine. Romance buds.
Hubby, however, is not a bully that will take a beating lying down. He hires
some villains to find the lovers and apply some punishment. In this part of
the tale, things take on an even stranger edge with a more extreme thread of
surreality twisted in. Finally, the redemptive power of love is contrived to
make us consider all the golf balls in the air, including the contrast
between unthreatening geniality and base cruelty.
As for whether the mute does eventually talk, let's say he's extremely
resistive. And, the silent device isn't likely to start a trend.
~~ The Filmiliar Cineaste