August 21, 2011

Breath: Kim Ki-duk Makes a Musical (in His Own Strange Way)

I used to hate musicals. But that's because I used to think musical meant Oklahoma, Cats, My Fair Lady and Xanadu. But once I broadened my definition a bit, and started to think of any movie with a number of songs sung by the cast as being a musical, I realized that I actually liked some musicals very, very much. In that spirit, I'd call Kim Ki-duk's Breath a musical. Sure, there are only four songs -- and they're all sung by Yeon (Gang In-hyeong), the depressed sculptor who courts imprisoned murderer Jang Jin (Chang Chen) after she finds out her husband (Ha Jung-woo) is cheating on her -- but each of these numbers is integral to the story and three of them involve special costume changes and strangely elaborate sets. Since this is a Duk film, you can bet your bottom dollar that these conventions are executed in an unusual way. (Think less Busby Berkley and more performance art.) And since every Duk film has at least one mute character, you can also guess who is listening attentively while Yeon is belting out her pop tunes.

The first three numbers are set in the prison's visiting room where Yeon has painstakingly papered the walls with colorful scenery enhanced by well-chosen props like a vase of flowers, a fan, and a boombox which she uses as her karaoke machine. Her final song -- for which she's joined in a sing-a-along by her reformed, now-harmonious husband -- is performed in a car (the site of many an impromptu duet) and doubles as the soundtrack for Jang Jin's strangled death at the hands of three cellmates, including one who appears to have deeply passionate feelings that rival those of Yeon, who earlier tried to kill Jang in coitus but failed. In the immortal words of singer Pat Benatar (who really should write a musical), "Love is a battlefield."

Click here to see a list of Kim Ki-duk's Top Ten Movies.

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