PIETA (Kim Ki-duk, 2012)
At first glance, Kim Ki-duk's 18th feature PIETA makes itself known as something not easy to watch. A loan shark, Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) cripples debtors who are unable to pay money in order to collect from their insurance policy. Cold and brutal, Kang-do goes about his business without penchant for mercy or reason.
Kang-do's balance is shaken upon the arrival of a mysterious woman (Cho Min-soo) claiming to be his mother who abandoned him at a young age. At first, Kang-do resents the woman and the fact that he may have a shot at redemption with the presence of a blood relative. However, things turn really interesting as Kang-do is disarmed by the woman's persistent demeanor, imposing upon his routine until Kang-do is unwittingly emotionally attached. Suddenly, Kang-do decides to dissuade from his path of unrighteousness.
Told in a relaxed but disquieting pace, filmmaker Kim Ki-duk peppers his story with a vicious treatment with the way he depicted the uneasy relationship between mother and son, and unprepared viewers may find the sexual tension too graphic and appalling (even if it only lasts for a few minutes). Nevertheless, it had to be done in order to establish the gruesome nature of man, and the possible reasons that have influenced such animal behavior. One word of caution: do not see it with your mother. (9 times out of 10 this advice will be proper.)
The sudden change in Kang-do's character from brute to humane, is visually laudable. At once, Kang-do becomes a helpless child. The way he manifests his love for his mother is felt with power.
And yet, there seems to be something hidden. Kim Ki-duk tells us there's more than meets the eye, with the way the mother rarely speaks when Kang-do asks her personal questions, and her eccentric behavior by the film's second half. True enough there's a twist waiting, but my only disagreement is that there ought to be another location for the film's climax, where everything unfolds, because it coincides with an earlier scene, resulting to confusion.
I wonder why a lot of Korean films are bleak, mostly bordering on the topic of revenge (just look at the filmography of Park Chan-wook, for example). Perhaps it is deeply rooted in culture, but by all means Korean filmmakers sure have perfected the genre. They may not have started it, but they sure do tell compelling stories out of it.
The subject treatment of piety vis-a-vis punishment in PIETA is sick and twisted, and definitely unconventional. Most people who holds a grudge against another will likely kill their subject of rage, yet for the kind of payback exacted in this movie, you will sure be unprepared.
WARNING: Strictly for mature audiences only.