Directed by Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Lee Jung-jin, Jo Min-su
Year: 2012, Runtime: 104 min.
Genre: Drama, Revenge
In the opening scene, we hear before we see, and the sound is that of a whirring machine. A young man on a wheel chair wraps a chain around his neck and clicks the switch on. The next scene features another man – our antihero – masturbating in his sleep, and his facial expression emulates pain not pleasure. His name is Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin), and as he wakes up, we see the industrial city in development through his window, the landscape the modern era ushered in. Kang-do is a debt collector hired by loan sharks, and he is quite good at it thanks to his brutality that knows no limit when collecting money from poor machinists who had to sign an insurance contract when borrowing money. Kang-do mercilessly hurts them until they become handicaps so he can collect money via insurance compensation. Later, we find out that the young man who commits suicide in the opening scene is Kang-do’s another victim.
Soon, a woman appears in Kang-do’s solitary existence, and she claims that she is the mother of Kang-do. She says she had to give him up at birth because of her circumstances at the time, but she now wants to be in his life. She is adamant, and through all the abuses Kang-do subjects her to (forcing her to eat his flesh, raping) she persists, and Kang-do starts to feel the mother’s love he never knew and he subconsciously longed for his entire life, and begins to believe her words. The movie pivots on the mystery of her identity: Is she really the mother of Kang-do? We find out two third of the way in, and the tension heightens as it dives toward the climax that will break everyone’s heart. Here, we shouldn’t forget about the significance of the title, “Pieta”.
Winning the Golden Lion award at the 69th Venice International Film Festival, “Pieta” is undoubtedly a superb movie with meticulously constructed storyline that has lasting impression on any careful viewers. It is the gloomiest, saddest, and probably most violent movie I’ve seen so far. To simply call it a tale of revenge is a huge understatement, as it hurls many questions such as: What significance did money take on in this modern, capitalistic society?; What is devil?; Is redemption available for anyone or is it a certain type of luxury?; What is a mother to a son? Can we ever understand what mothers do for their sons and what ignites their love?
One Jewish proverbs says, “God created mothers because he couldn’t be everywhere taking care of everyone at once.” The movie depicts many characters who are mothers, including the main character, Mi-sun (Jo Min-su), who claims she is the mother of our protagonist, and other mothers whose lives are bereft of any meaning when their sons are gone. Mi-sun’s final words are devastating, and I won’t ruin for the movie by opining what they may mean. Watching “Pieta” is truly a rare movie watching experience, and it can’t be recommended enough. What price are we paying for this modern world full of superfluous comforts and instant pleasures? What is it doing to our human relationship?