Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

This is the third of Korean directorís Ki-Duk Kimís films Iíve seen with the first being ĎThe Isleí and the next being his much heralded Ď3-Ironí, neither which Iíve bothered to review because I wouldnít know what to say. Truth be told, I just donít get this manís movies and I really know what to say about this one either. Kim functions at a level of consciousness, artistically at least, that is far above my ability to comprehend. There are those out there who trumpet Kim as a genius and a visionary, and then there are those out there who call those people idiots. I will concede that it seems to me that there is something more going on beneath the surface in Kimís films, but no matter how hard I try to open my mind and unlock my inner conscious barriers, I still ainít getting it, and ĎBreathí is no exception.

Jang Jin (Cheng Chang) is in on death row. For what, we are not quite sure as of yet but I know one thing, assuming that this prison is an accurate representation of prisons in South Korea, they sure are different than our lockups here. Jang Jin lives in what appears to be a 6x8 foot cell with no mattresses and three other dudes as cellmates. He has a lover at the prison, which has to be REALLY uncomfortable for his cellmates when those two choose to Ďexpress their loveí. Jang though is trying to hasten his exit from the world and takes a sharp object that one of his cellmates uses as a rudimentary sculptors scalpel and jabs himself in neck. Off to the hospital he goes where his frequent attempts to kill himself is apparently national news in Korea.

Watching the news of Jang Jinís second suicide attempt is an extremely miserable housewife named Yeon (Park Ji-ah) who spends her days alone caring for her young daughter and hating her philandering husband (Ha Jung-woo), who seems to hate her just as much. After finding a hair beret in husbands car that doesnít belong to her, Yeon loses it and leaves the house, eventually ending up at the Prison Jang Jin is being housed, and for whatever reason, poses as his girlfriend in an effort to get to see him. A very strange movie becomes even stranger as Yeon pays a visit to Jang Jin every

day. Another thing that is vastly different in Korean prisons, assuming that this is to be taken as truth of course, is that death row inmates are allowed to be in small rooms with people, with physical access to the people while said people bring in all kinds of stuff which quite honestly could be construed as dangerous. All with the bare minimum of supervision. Death Row inmates donít get that here. They get to exhaust their appeals and then suck a needle. Thatís it. Yeon wallpapers the room in consecutive festive seasons, dresses for the season, sings happy songs and then makes out with Jang Jin on occasion, all amidst the ever voyeuristic eye of the head security officer who remotely dictates how far he will let the couple go.

Our husband has become exasperated with his wifeís behavior and becomes suddenly desperate to save his marriage, but is also concerned about his Ďself esteemí since his wife is traveling everyday to make out with a man who is going to die in a few days. Then it basically ends, though some stuff happens in the meantime, but I donít have any idea what the hell has just transpired.

Similar to his the other movies of Kimís that I have seen, this one features long stretches of silence and a main character who says almost nary a word. Cheng Chen is silent throughout the film, narrative wise because he stabbed himself in the throat but realistically because heís Chinese and Iím guessing doesnít know a helluva lot of Korean. I recognized Chen immediately as I just recently saw him in the film ĎBlood Brothersí and though one may call into question his acting ability, he does have the talent of staring through the screen at the audience with great intensity. Park Ji-ah also says very little in the film, with the exception of when sheís in the company of Jang Jin, because Iím guessing two characters who say nothing might be too much to stand, but thatís what we got with Ď3-Ironí though. The film was nice too look at, as all of Kimís films are, and it was well acted but the fact remains I still didnít get what I was supposed to be seeing, if anything.

What was Yeonís purpose for visiting Jang Jin? Revenge against her husband? Surely any old dude with a penis should qualify for that you would think, thus raising the point that there had to be more to it. The husband yells at his wife ĎDo you know who he killed?í as if Jang Jinís victims are of relevance to them. Yet if it was, this point was left open ended. What exactly was Jang Jin getting out of this relationship anyway? SPOILER: And why did Yeon try to kill Jang Jin at the end of the movie? Particularly after imploring him to stop trying to kill himself. And I wonít even try to decipher the meaning of the final scene of the film, with the two inmates rolling away out of the scene leaving Jang and his prison lover alone.

This is a movie that film snobs and film students need to watch, gather at a Coffee Beanery and expound on theorize on the hidden meaning of Kimís latest work. Though Iím pretty sure 90% of them will be making stuff up so they wonít appear stupid in front of their fellow colleagues who wear those jackets with patches on the elbows, but to that 10%, why donít you cats let me know what was going on in this movie.

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