Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breathless: a stunning nether world

Melbourne International Film Festival 2009

Breathless (Ddongpari) is a stunning film, in both senses of the word. It leaves you feeling battered around the head and awed by the boldness of its themes.

An unlikely group share a Korean barbeque: a girl in senior High School; a divorce woman and her young son; her father; and a former gangster. Missing is the man who brought them together, Sang-hoon, a gangster who worked as a loan shark debt collector.

So are the schoolgirl’s brother and Vietnam War veteran father. They are just two of the many dysfunctional characters we meet in this broken society.

Yang Ik-june, who stars as hard-man Sang-hoon, also served as the film’s screenwriter, editor and producer. It’s a low budget movie that has won a number of awards. Like its anti-hero, it pulls no punches with large serving of graphic violence and “offensive” language. It must set a record for the most four letters words in two hours of film.

Perhaps the most confronting issue raised in this film is the prevalence of domestic violence with wife bashing a recurring theme. The relentless brutality leaves us breathless and disgusted. There is none of the glamour of action movies such as Chocolate. Sang-hoon routinely bashes people indiscriminately. He’s from the “what are you looking at” school of thuggery.

However, his relationship with schoolgirl Yeon-Hue (Kot-bi Kim) is warm and tender, more sensual rather than sexual. Their arguments bring humour and humanity to their otherwise joyless lives. Kim has a natural gift for the comic moment but also handles fury and fear like a seasoned professional. She has plenty of opportunity to exercise the latter talent.

This dark and gloomy story ends with some hope. However, it is hope tempered with a very large dose of despair.

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