An ugly story and one that shows no compassion, a very difficult watch at times .... but must be seen!
Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Film Festival Pieta (2012) is South Korean director Kim Ki-duk 18th film. Previous work includes The Isle (2000), Bad Guy (2001) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring (2003) and 3-Iron (2003) all are well worth a re-visit.
When the film opens we observe a young man in a wheelchair hooking a metal lifting chain around his neck, he presses a button and the chain tightens lifting him out of the chair leaving his trainers on the ground. We then move to a different part of the semi derelict industrial slums of the Cheonggyecheon district of Seoul. There we find another young man in bed having what appears to be an erotic dream, he wipes himself when his mobile phone alarm goes off, gets up and dress’s for work. Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a debt collector for a loan shark working a scam that if the clients can’t pay he will permanently cripple them and forces them to pay the money from an insurance they were obliged to take out to get the loan in the first place. Kang-do is a nasty character very handy with a knife that does not flinch at permanently maiming the inhabitants that populate these small machine shops that they barely scape a living from, the deed is normally carried out in front of a wife or mother.
Then one day a woman turns up and claims to have abandoned him at birth 30 years previous, but he is not convinced that this person is his mother. He sets her a series of tests that he says will prove if she is the person she claims to be. Cutting a piece of flesh from his own body he makes her to eat it. Although gagging she manages the task, still not convinced he brutally rapes her. Gradually he comes to believe the respectable looking women (Cho Min-soo) and accepts her as his mother. The relationship develops and Kang-do’s prospective on life begins to change even to the extent of allowing one of his clients to play his guitar one more time! But one afternoon she disappears and Kang-do panics.
The strange pitiless tale only then begins to unfold and only then do we realise that this once unfeeling young man now has a weakness: his mother, which makes him for the first time in his violent life venerable. Kim Ki-duk story is not about the evils of man but the evils of money in an area of Seoul that must be demolished for developers leaving ordinary hard working people without a home and the means of earning a living. According to Roger Clarke the title Pieta is a Renaissance art history term referring to images of Mary cradling the dead body of her dead son, but literally means pity. And it’s a pity that more people will not take advantage of this courageous film director work.