Fore! Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk stays mostly out of the rough in 3-Iron, his latest assault (Violence! Burglary! Golf Balls!) on arthouse audiences who ought to remember his name after sitting through the fish-hook-munching horror of The Isle or misogynous red-light romance Bad Guy.
Anyone who thought Kim had gone soft after watching his ravishing Buddhist ode Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... And Spring should approach this with caution: he's still got what it takes to shock (you can take the Buddhist out of the gutter, etc) as scenes featuring assault with a deadly golf club prove. Yet, despite the uncomfortable flashes of golfing violence, 3-Iron is actually a surprisingly tender love story.
Released in Korea as Bin-Jip, literally "Empty Houses", - it's a meditation on urban loneliness, with delivery boy Tae-suk sneaking into people's houses while they're out. He doesn't steal anything, just raids their fridges, does their laundry and rearranges a few of their personal possessions. It's a ghostly game he also teaches to battered wife Sun-hwa after rescuing her from a life of miserable domestic abuse.
Silence is always golden in Ki-duk's world. Both characters here are dumb - speechless, not stupid - their lives ruled by emotions they can't put into words. In contrast, everyone else in the movie, from Sun-hwa's vicious husband to various bullying coppers, talk... but they don't have anything to say. Starting out as low-key drama then morphing into a haunting fantasy that could just be a needy daydream in the mind of its damaged heroine, 3-Iron's meaning slips in and out of reach. Is it nonsensical mumbo jumbo or haunting mood poem? Golfers will know that the 3-iron is a difficult club to get to grips with: the beauty of Ki-duk's pop arthouse cinema is that it's always accessible, even when its meaning is elusive.
Lighter than some of Ki-duk's earlier films, this love story doesn't make much sense, but it's hard to forget. Frustration looks almost enchanting.