Pieta Review

by allan tong for FILMbutton

The universe of South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk is a cruel one where violence pervades even in moments of affection between characters. His latest film, Pieta, pushes this volatile combination further than usual.

Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) a debt collector who tosses deadbeats off buildings and runs their limbs through industrial machines so they can claim insurance and pay their debts. Like many of Kim Ki-duk’s anti-heroes he says little which makes him all the more menacing. At 30, he also lives alone, talks to no one and has no lover. He is an empty man.

One day his life changes when an unnamed woman (Korean star Cho Min-soo) shows up and claims to be the mother who abandoned him at birth. Kang-do doesn’t buy it and tests the woman by treating her cruelly (in scenes that will make some squirm). However, the woman stands up to Kang-do and convinces him that she is her mother.

She moves in and predictably introduces mercy and compassion to Kang-do’s heart. She does little things like urging him to plant a tree and watering it each day so he has something to nurture. Kang-do quits his loan shark boss. He starts to lead a decent life.

However, she triggers Kang-do’s karma which forces him to revisit the victims he has crippled.

Pieta is a powerful drama and possibly the auteur’s best to date. Cho Min-soo is commanding on screen. The characters are complex and revolve around a moral center though their acts of violence and hints of incest will disturb. There is nothing sweet or sentimental here nor callous or sadistic. Disturbing, yes, but unforgettable.

Pieta opens Friday, May 31st in Toronto.

Allan is a Toronto filmmaker, co-directing Leone Stars, a documentary about child victims of the Sierra Leonean civil war.

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