June 20, 2015

Crocodile: True Love Kim Ki-Duk Style

I'm going to go out on a severed limb, and assert that Crocodile is Kim Ki-duk's most romantic movie. Duk's feature debut isn't a date movie by any stretch of the imagination, but there's definitely an emotional thaw experienced by its title character (Jo Jae-hyeon), a heartless thug who rescues, rapes, then revenges a suicidal artist (Woo Yun-gyeong) who he's pulled out of a particularly filthy section of the Han River. What causes the change is a couple of things.

1. He discovers a well-executed (and flattering) portrait of himself that she's drawn.
2. He's warned by his surrogate grandfather (Jeon Mu-song): "You won't always be young."
3. He's nearly raped himself by a police sketch artist (who ends up with a cucumber shoved up his arse).

Further tenderizing of our hero takes place when his young charge (Ahn Jae-hong) nearly castrates him with a pocketknife and when he's beaten to a pulp by some unscrupulous poker players who hit him with what appears to be a boar's hoof. (Understatement has never been Kim's bent.) So what makes Crocodile romantic?

I guess it's the way that the title character handcuffs himself to the artist's dead body and then slits — no, saws — his wrist as they sit next to each other on a loveseat underwater. This one-ups the saying "To death do us part" with "Look how death brings us together." Very Romeo and Juliet in a street life way.

As first films go, Crocodile is impressive, and feels like an earlier attempt at the same story which Kim would perfect five years later with the brilliant Bad Guy. Both movies star Jo Jae-hyeon, who can certainly be considered one of Kim's primary muses having also appeared in his Wild Animals, The Isle, Address Unknown, and the insane silent sex pic Moebius. Jo, like Kim, is best when he's making you uncomfortable which he does here for 102 minutes.

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