Directed by Kim Ki-duk
The main character of Kim's 18th film is the monstrous embodiment of unchecked capitalism. How's this for a metaphor: he profits off crippling the working poor with their own machinery! Played by Lee Jung-jin, Kang-do is a 30-year-old loan shark's enforcer (with a face like a Korean Edward Scissorhands) who visits the people that owe his bosses money, mangles their legs or hands—permanently stripping them of their livelihoods—and then uses the resulting insurance payouts to settle their debts. Humanity here is cheap—roughly $3,000. (Such brutality against man is matched by that against animal: Kang-do tends to buy his dinners alive, slaughtering and dressing them in his apartment; his bathroom floor is covered in slop piles of gore.)
But the movie also transcends its economic allegory. It's also a character study, a portrait of a madman whose conscience is returned to him when the mother (Jo Min-su) who abandoned him as a baby comes back, stalking him spectrally, wearing down his bitter resistance—and withstanding his nauseous acts of sexual violence and his insistence that she eat a piece of his flesh, which she does—and softening his heart with the maternal love he'd never had. The title comes from the name for artworks depicting the Virgin Mary cradling her son's corpse. It's not really a spoiler; more so it hints at Kang-do's spiritual deadness and the resurrection of his compunction. Then he has to wrestle with what he's done, ultimately suffering his own torture and loss.
In the last third of the film, Kang-do tours his past victims, most of them furious, terrified; some are dead by their own hands. (The film's central conflict is that between love and money, its subject the adversity that arises from it.) Kim's Korea is full of desperate and fucked-over people, the victims of the economy and then of its personification. But then our hero has a Grinch-like moment: a vision of love persevering despite the damage he's wrought. Love gets its revenge.
Opens May 17