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  Pieta How He Met His Mother
Year: 2012
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Stars: Jo Min-soo, Lee Jung-jin, Woo Ki-hong, Kang Eunjin, Cho Jae-ryong, Lee Myeong-ja, Heo Jun-seok, Kwon Se-in, Song Mun-su, Kim Beom-jun, Son Jong-hak, Yong-Ok Jin, Kim Jae-rok, Lee Wong-jan
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Gang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is the muscle for a loan shark who takes great pleasure in strongarming the debtors into paying up, mainly because they usually cannot and he contrives to raise the money by crippling them and taking the resulting insurance claims as payment. So it is today when he visits a couple who run a shop and the wife offers herself to Gang-do instead of him injuring her husband, but all he does is strip her and whip her - then hobbles the husband anyway. It's safe to say the heavy is not the most sympathetic of people, and he has no friends or family to speak of, or at least as far as he knows...

For there might be a certain someone who is related to him in a way he never even conceived of, being an orphan from birth, or abandoned by his parents as a baby at any rate. Falling on the upbringing side of the nature/nurture debate, director Kim Ki-duk's Pieta presented a man who had never been shown love and therefore was unable to show love in return, and nor did he wish to, which makes his reptilian responses to his victims understandable if not appreciated. However, after about ten or fifteen minutes of us being introduced to this deeply undesirable man, there appeared in his life a new person who proved very difficult for him to shake off.

That was down to the woman, Mi-Son (Jo Min-soo), claiming to be Gang-do's mother and determined to make up for all the misery he had endured by dint of him not having a doting parent providing him with the affection he always lacked. Not being used to this sort of attention, he rejects her initially, in some of the most brutal ways he can think of, including an attempted rape to call her bluff if bluff indeed it is, but she remains persistent and hangs around, eventually insinuating herself into his pokey apartment and moving in with the increasingly convinced villain. All the while he continues visiting his intimidation and violence upon the boss's debtors, so much so that Mi-Son even joins in at times, all the better to demonstrate her sincerity.

In its twisted way, Pieta owed a debt to film noir, except the femme fatale was a middle-aged woman and the doomed protagonist had already damned himself - as his victims are keen to point out - well before we had actually caught up with him at the beginning of the movie. Therefore watching this unfold was a matter of waiting for Gang-do's chickens to come home to roost (he is seen with a genuine chicken at one point), and working out quite how that will develop. Either Min-So is telling the truth, and her declaration of mother love is so alien to the man that he cannot cope with it, or she is deceiving him for reasons unknown and the same outcome is her act of vengeance, which leads an already morally crepuscular plotline into further depths of darkness.

That said, there is a hint as to what is going on in that first, brief scene as we watch a man in a wheelchair lower a chain around his neck and hang himself, though it has to be said the degree of violence and squalor shown proves to be something Kim shied away from for the most part, preferring to let us know what was happening then cutting away from it: there was no nudity and very little gore to be seen. Not that this made it that much brighter, as the colour palette was various shades of grey in a place where the sun never so much as peeks out from behind the clouds, as befitting a film where we are asked to feel sorry for a man who commits dreadful acts on pathetically needy folks. Eventually, about two thirds of the way through Kim showed his hand and the mood grew even more emotionally complex, though not significantly more enjoyable, as if he were teaching us a lesson in human nature which sounded as if it should be uplifting yet actually in the form it was offered was more depressing that people had to go to these lengths to achieve salvation. Music by Park In-young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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