Monday, May 21, 2007

Kim Ki Duk's 'Breath' of Fresh Air (Now That's a Headline!)

Kim Ki Duk's latest film, "Soom" (translated originally as "Breathe" but now as "Breath") is about a connection between a man and a woman who barely know each other but desperately need connection. The man is a murderer on death row who constantly tries to kill himself, only to be kept alive until the execution. The woman is in a loveless marriage with a husband who doesn't understand her, and talks at her rather than to her. After seeing the constant TV news coverage of his execution, she decides to pay him a visit.

Thanks to a prison warden who is much more lenient on the rules than the Cannes Film Festival employees, meets and performs for him in the visitation cell, which she decorates with absurd wallpaper that creates a brilliant contrast between freedom and confinement. The imagery throughout the film contrasts between the open and the confined, as the characters try unsuccessfully to break out of their prisons and find peace.

As best exemplified in his strongest film, "Three Iron," Kim likes to work in silences and small moments, and "Breath" masterfully creates character dynamics by means of who speaks (or sings) to whom and whether or not they can shut the hell up. The two leads both add to Kim's careful direction. Zia is fragile and exuberant. Chang Chen, who doesn't speak during the entire film, provides a range of emotions that make us see his character as more than just a killer.

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