Tag Archives: Ki-duk Kim

291. 3-IRON (2004)


“It’s hard to tell that the world we live in is either a reality or a dream.”–closing quotation to 3-Iron


FEATURING: Seung-yeon Lee, Hyun-kyoon Lee, Hyuk-ho Kwon

PLOT: A young man spends his days pinning advertising fliers to residences as a pretext to discover who in the neighborhood is on vacation; he then sneaks into their home and stays for a few days, always cleaning and fixing something around the house as a form of payment. One day he discovers that the residence he’s broken into isn’t empty; a battered woman catches him sleeping in her bed. The two silently connect and, after the intruder assaults the abusive husband with a barrage of golf balls, the wife accompanies him on his break-ins, until the law catches up to them.

Still from 3-Iron (2004)


  • Major characters with no dialogue is something of a Ki-duk Kim trademark: his 2000 effort, The Isle, featured a mute heroine, and the male protagonist of 2001’s Bad Guy was almost entirely silent.
  • This was the first movie Kim made after forming his own production company. To save money, the writer/director did the motorcycle stunt work himself.
  • Included in “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”

INDELIBLE IMAGE: An easy pick. It’s the image chosen for the poster: the husband and wife embracing, while the wife kisses her lover who stands behind her spouse, unseen. To the uninitiated, this shot suggests the movie will be about a love triangle; knowledge of the story imbues the scene with more ambiguity.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Silent lovers; jailhouse golf; invisibility training

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise of a man who lives in others’ homes is unusual. The fact that the two lovers never speak to each other, although capable of speech, adds a layer of mystery. In the mystical third act where the protagonist trains himself to be perfectly undetectable, however, 3-Iron opens up into legitimately weird realms.

Original trailer for 3-Iron

COMMENTS: 3-Iron is best understood as a ghost story. Not that Continue reading 291. 3-IRON (2004)



FEATURING: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim

PLOT: A mute woman who runs a fishing resort becomes obsessed with a suicidal fugitive hiding out in one of the floating cabins.

Still from The Isle [Seom] (2000)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bizarre, perverted sadomasochistic love story in a unique setting, made with skill and a few touches of surrealism.

COMMENTS: One of the most unique features of The Isle is the peculiar setting: a fishing resort on a picture-postcard lake dotted with one-room floating cabins for rent. Guests spend their days drinking beer, staring at the misty mountains in the distance, and fishing off their doorstep; while there they are almost completely dependent on the stunningly beautiful, mute proprietress, who ferries them back and forth to the shore and delivers bait, coffee, and prostitutes in her dinghy. (The hideaway appears to make more money off of escort services and wealthy men sailing their mistresses out to a bungalow for some floating hanky-panky than it does off of fishing). One day, the woman pilots a quiet, handsome man out to the yellow float; he catches her eye when she discovers that he is suicidal and has sailed out to the lake to work up the courage to bump himself off. This is the setup for a very odd romance that develops between two lovers with tormented pasts—backstories that are never fully explained but are hinted at by the obsessive fury with which they fall for each other and the self-loathing ferocity with which they mutilate themselves.

For a romantic drama, The Isle has a relatively high body count; but, despite a few horrific moments, no one will confuse this arthouse effort with a slasher. The tone is always straightforward and serious—even solemn—and this matter-of-fact treatment makes some of the bizarre occurrences near the end seem almost believable. The aquatic setting supplies a built-in metaphor for submerged meanings and hidden psychological depths, and beautifully murky underwater shots abound. Particularly lovely is a shot where Jung Suh, whose character moves above and below the waterline at will, peers down into the fathoms while her long jet black hair floats like seaweed behind her. Other strange and memorable moments include what is likely to be the most improbable and painfully gruesome suicide attempt you’ve ever seen, and a mysteriously surreal parting shot of a bushy island of green reeds. Evoking the mysterious power of mutually destructive attraction, The Isle is a movie that just might get its hooks in you—although hopefully not as literally as it gets its hooks inside its characters.

Fair warning to animal lovers: it does not appear that the Korean chapter of PETA was allowed on set for this shoot, as violence against vertebrates is a running theme in the film. The Isle features a frog skinned and pulled apart, sushi made and eaten from a living fish as it flops around, a drowned bird, and a dog choked by a leash and struck. Although some of the cruelty is faked, some of it clearly is not.


“…a thoroughly original item that adds further fuel to South Korea’s recent rep for sexually themed offbeaters.”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Spass.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


Reader review by Jason Ubermolch.  Some background on this review: in the suggestion thread, Jason recommended three movies: Brother Sun, Sister Moon; this one; and Zachariah.  I noted that the first two movies were critically acclaimed but sounded only mildly weird, so I picked Zachariah to cover as the weirdest of the trio.  Thinking I was unduly dismissing 3-Iron‘s weirdness, Jason offered to make the case for it as a weird movie and do the write up himself.  (This procedure is highly recommended, by the way; we would love to see the reader recommendation category grow)!


FEATURING: Seung-yeon Lee, Hyun-kyoon Lee (Jae Hee), Hyuk-ho Kwon

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: 3-Iron is a love story in which the lovers communicate their joy, grief, fear, trepidation, trust, and insecurities – believably – without ever exchanging dialogue. Plus, the subtle uncanniness of a man who can move silently, without being seen, adds a poignant surreality to the last quarter of the movie.

Still from 3-Iron (2004)

PLOT & COMMENTS: The protagonist of 3-Iron is a young Korean man who breaks into people’s houses while they’re on vacation and lives in their homes.  He eats their food, listens to their stereos, and sleeps in their beds, but he also fixes their broken appliances, cleans their laundry, and, more or less, earns his keep.  One night he occupies a house in which a beaten wife, Sun-hwa, is hiding with a bruised and bloodied face; she trails him silently, unseen, as he goes about his chores.  When her husband returns from his business trip and begins to beat her, the young man pelts the husband with golf balls, and then rides off with Sun-hwa on his motorcycle.

In the next half of the movie, the squatter and Sun-hwa continue to live out their innocent breaking-and-entering lifestyle, turning into an efficient and silent house cleaning team.  In a photographer’s apartment, Sun-hwa learns the trade.  In a boxer’s house, the nameless man is beaten by the owner and it becomes Sun-hwa’s turn to feed and nurse a bruised victim. In another house, the hero and Sun-hwa shyly woo each other and kiss.  And in yet another, they discover an old man who has died; they prepare his body for a funeral and bury him, only to be accosted by the deceased’s Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: 3-IRON [BIN-JIP] (2004)