From its opening composition — golf balls driven by unseen hands into a blue mesh screen, plaster replicas of classical statuary in the background — the latest film from South Korea’s most maddening, fascinating new director inhabits a suburban milieu as flawlessly anonymous as the metallic sheen of its protagonist’s motorcycle. Tae-suk spends his days riding through neighborhoods, leaving take-out flyers on doors. If a home still sports that ever-ubiquitous piece of modern detritus that evening, Tae-suk breaks in and… doesn’t really do anything. He fiddles around a bit, but his presence is more disruptive than any of his actions. He does clean the dirty laundry, though-— by hand, on a washboard whose archaism contrasts the cell phones, easy-listening CDs, and golf clubs festooning the landscape.
The flyer method is, of course, hardly a foolproof way for Tae-suk to determine whether or not a house is empty. It’s in a McMansion he mistakenly believes to be unoccupied that he meets Sun-hwa, with whom he shares an immediate nonverbal bond.
Main characters who communicate without speech have been a recurring theme in Kim’s films, but this is the first time he’s had two silent leads. The conflict in 3-Iron is between them and the volatility, especially in the person of Sun-hwa’s abusive husband, that threatens to break through their insulated existence. Mute, and reaching ever closer to invisible as they inhabit other people’s lives and commingle their own, Tae-suk and Sun-hwa seem to be drifting towards a harmonious oblivion. And as the first shot in 3-Iron depicts the trappings of anonymity, its ephemeral final moments contain both its essence and its opposite.
Mazzy Star probably said it best: ‘Fade Into You’.
Opens April 29