By Scott A. GrayVengeance is a theme especially prevalent in South Korean cinema. In the hands of celebrated auteur Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring), the impulse of a victim to revisit an equal, or greater, measure of pain upon the perceived source of his or her anguish is rendered as a deeply personal consideration of where to assign blame in a cycle of violence.
Kim Ki-duk employs an intimate and austere shooting style congruent with his unembellished search for causalities in an emotionally isolated man's violent callousness.
An unsympathetic debt collector for a loan shark, Lee Kang-do has no qualms about maiming the destitute workers trying to eke out a living amid the squalor of a tightly packed factory district if they're tardy with a payment. You can get a lot of money in an insurance settlement by losing a hand, but for men skilled only in manual labour, it's also a death sentence to potential future earnings.
Once crippled, many of Le Kang-do's clients take that sentence literally and, unable to bear the shame of feeling useless, commit suicide. One day, a woman shows up, claiming to be the unrepentant thug's estranged mother, begging forgiveness for abandoning him as an infant. After being initially dismissive and irritated, he grows contemptuous and more than a little desperate, demanding increasingly debasing acts of the woman as proof that she really is his mother.
Satisfied by her resolve, Lee Kang-do warms to the woman and they gradually forge an affectionate, but disturbing familial bond. The squeamish will be put-off by the casually depicted brutality and frank sexuality that dances from darkly funny to horrifying with disturbing grace, but any discomfort is in the greater service of a nuanced look at self-responsibility, the vital nature of nurture and the fierce dedication of a maternal love.
Cleverly plotted and rich with unflinching emotional devastation, the equally elegant and distressing Pieta is one of the year's best. (Finecut)