Romanized title: Binjip
English title: 3-Iron (literal translation is “vacant”)
Written & Directed by Kim Ki Duk
Runtime: 90 minutes
Cast: Lee Seung Yeon, Jae Hee (there are more cast members, but the movie focuses almost solely on these two actors)
Synopsis: Jae Hee stars as Tae Suk, a young college graduate who spends his days delivering ads and his afternoons and nights breaking into houses/apartments which still have the ads attached to them. And no, he is not a thief. Merely a wanderer who goes into other peoples homes while they are on vacation. He cleans their houses, takes care of their plants, and does their laundry. Really, it is kind of disturbing in a way. One day, he happens to go into the house of a man whose battered wife was still inside. Thus their relationship begins. And what a relationship.
This Korean movie by acclaimed director Kim Ki Duk of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…And Spring which was a smash hit when it played at the Sundance Film festival is available on DVD with English subtitles from Sony Pictures, plus its available to rent from Netflix. Got to love Netflix’s foreign film department. They have a lot of Asian movies. Now if they could only get more Asian dramas as well, but I digress.
The film opens with Tae Suk out delivering fliers. A garage opens up and a man honks his horn impatiently, wanting Tae Suk’s bike to get out of the way (it was parked in front of his garage). Afterward, Tae Suk goes home where he throws another flier on the floor of the hallway and then opens a trusty little lock-picking kit. Okay, so it isn’t Tae Suk’s home after all. Once inside, he looks around, checking out all the rooms and then goes to the answering machine which has a message stating the family is out on vacation. Tae Suk then bathes, does laundry, cooks, and even fixes a toy gun for the kid of the house. The next day the family comes home and Tae Suk slips out quietly leaving no sign of his presence. His fixing the toy gun does have a lasting effect, though, so I guess it proves that his good deeds can also be a double-edged sword.
He then goes and scouts the neighborhood he was in earlier, finds the flier still attached to the gate of the house where the man asked him to move his bike. Tae Suk goes in and checks it out, obviously liking the house a lot. He goes about doing what he normally does. He bathes, cleans, goes through a photography book (that is artsy nude photos). The man of the house calls, demanding someone pick up the phone. Tae Suk ignores this and we then see that all of this time there has been a woman in the house. Her face is all bruised, and from the specifics of the phone call, it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to figure out she’s being abused by her husband.
She finally makes her presence known to Tae Suk when he is getting ready to go to bed. This freaks him out and he gathers his clothes and goes to run off. The phone rings again and the husband demands again that the wife pick up the phone and answer him. Sun Hwa picks up the phone, stays quiet for the longest time, and then screams before putting the phone down. This startles Tae Suk even more. He rides off on his bike, but makes a u-turn as he recalls the woman’s battered face.
When Tae Suk returns, Sun Hwa is taking a bath and crying. Tae Suk takes her clothes and goes and picks out a new set. Sun Hwa is surprised by the clothes laid out for her, but she pulls them on with Tae Suk watching unnoticed. Afterward, Sun Hwa sits in the living room while Tae Suk rolls a golf ball towards her, always staying out of sight. Sun Hwa starts to play with him, but her slowly growing better mood is ruined by the return of her husband. Tae Suk sneaks out of the house and stands in the backyard watching. Sun Hwa wants nothing to do with her husband and pushes him off her, but her husband comes back and tells her to sit still why he has his way with her. Not liking this, Tae Suk begins hitting golf balls. When Sun Hwa’s husband comes out to investigate, Tae Suk begins hitting golf balls at him. I cringed at this part just because I know how heavy golf balls are, so I can imagine how much that hurts, although the man deserved it.
While the man lies barely able to breath, Tae Suk walks off with a golf club and balls and goes outside where he revs up his motorcycle. Sun Hwa goes outside and ignores her husband’s hand imploring for her help. Tae Suk keeps revving the engine waiting for Sun Hwa to make a move away from the man who beats her. Sun Hwa does go with him.
And thus begins their life together. They enter empty houses and their silent relationship and bond grows deeper. And yes, I mean silent. This movie is known for the lack of dialogue between the main characters and since it is their lives we follow, it stands that we don’t hear much dialogue at all. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least it saves from overly cheesy dialogue which can occur.
I am not going to summarize each house visit in detail. There were several where various things happened. So, here it is in a nutshell. Apartment 1 was a photographer’s apartment and in it, Tae Suk watched happily as Sun Hwa began doing things like he did (i.e. laundry and such). House 2 sees the two growing closer and playing with each other and just having fun. House 2 is also where they get caught for the first time and Tae Suk gets beaten up. House 3 sees their relationship go a step further when they consummate it. Apartment 4 is where they discover a dead body and try to contact the family (who are ironically enough on vacation). They then clean, shroud, and bury the body and continue to live at the house until the old man’s family comes and they are arrested for murder.
At the police station, both remain silent. However, the officer recognizes Sun Hwa from a missing person’s report and calls her husband. He believes that Tae Suk kidnapped and forced himself on Sun Hwa (totally not true). The police officer also thinks Tae Suk is a thief and murderer. The other officer reports that nothing was stolen and that the dead man was lovingly buried and died of natural causes. But the senior officer doesn’t care. Sun Hwa’s husband picks her up and takes her home, promising that he is a changed man while Tae Suk is thrown in jail for his “crimes.” Yes, he technically committed crimes, but nothing to warrant the treatment he got (i.e. Sun Hwa’s husband paying off the cop so he could hit golf balls at Tae Suk).
All while Tae Suk is in jail he practices various ways of hiding, which earn him a beating from the guard. Tae Suk keeps practicing until he is able to stay completely out of a person’s range of vision. A lot of hard work and when we first see him practice, I think the boy’s gone off his rocker. It’s not til the guard explains Tae Suk’s faults that we realize what he’s doing. His reason for this? I thought it was so he could kill Sun Hwa’s husband. I was wrong.
Meanwhile, Sun Hwa’s attitude has changed. She no longer accepts her husband’s abuse and acts of cruelty. When he tries to get some action from her, she actually slaps him, knocking his glasses off. You go girl! Both her and her husband are waiting for Tae Suk’s release – for different reasons obviously. While waiting for Tae Suk, Sun Hwa dresses up and goes to the house where they first made love and sleeps on the coach, shocking the owner and his wife. But the owner let’s her sleep in peace, apparently amused by her audacity.
Tae Suk is released from prison and tests out his newly acquired skills of being a stealthy ghost. He exacts revenge on the corrupt cop, goes into the boxer’s house and puts patches over the eyes on a poster, goes to the photographer’s house and steals the picture Sun Hwa cut up and rearranged, and goes to the house where they made love for the first time and naps on the same coach. The final destination? Sun Hwa’s. Her husband wakes up and takes a bat, thinking Tae Suk has broken in, however, he finds no one and goes back to bed. Sun Hwa wakes up later and goes to look for Tae Suk as well. She stands in front of a mirror and he appears behind her like magic. She smiles, happy to see him. Then her husband comes out and Tae Suk is no longer in the mirror behind her. She turns to her husband and says (her first words! besides screaming) “I love you.” This surprises her husband and makes him happy. Too bad he can’t see that she’s saying those words to Tae Suk who is standing behind her husband. He embraces her.
Okay. This next scene disturbs me. Maybe because it is very freaky. While Sun Hwa’s husband is holding her, she holds out her hand and Tae Suk takes it, coming closer. They then share a very passionate kiss behind her husband’s back. I don’t know why, it just creeped me out. The next morning, Sun Hwa is happily cooking breakfast. Her husband comes in, glad she is still happy and sits down to eat. Behind him again is Tae Suk. They play a game of table tag where Tae Suk manages to keep out of the husband’s eye sight while taking the food Sun Hwa offers.
When the husband is away, Tae Suk and Sun Hwa will play. Right.
At the end of the film there is a quote which then can make the viewer question just what was real. The quote basically saying that it is hard to discern just what is the truth. Hmm. So did this whole thing even happen? I don’t know. But I did like it. I was surprised at the lack of dialogue, but it didn’t detract from the movie. You would think the silence and monotony of breaking into houses would make this movie boring, but it didn’t. This is definitely worth watching. Especially as it explores the meaning of connection and family and communication. He and Sun Hwa didn’t need words – they were two lost souls who spoke the same language.