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Original Title:
Suchwiin bulmyeong

South Korea 2001


Kim Ki-duk

Yang Dong-kun
Kim Young-min
Park Min-jung
Bang Eun-jin
Jo Jae-hyeon
Mitch Mahlum
Myeong Gye-nam
Lee In-ok

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Address Unknown

Story: 1970: In a Korean rural town near an american military base hatred, perversion, brutality and loneliness run rampant. Chang-guk (Yang Dong-kun) is a half-breed, who works for Dog-Eyes (Jo Jae-hyeon) and slaughters dogs. His father is an afro-american, whom he has never seen. His mother (Bang Eun-jin) promises her son, that they will someday go to America together and will lead a happy life there. The letters she sends to the only known address of Chang-guk's father are always returned, however, since the address doesn't seem to be the right one. Feeling ashamed of his mother's disgrace, and because he is always bullied by xenophobic Koreans, Chang-guk oftentimes beats up his mother badly. Her new friend, though, doesn't like to see this and so violence goes in a cruel, unstoppable circle.
Ji-heum (Kim Young-min) is a quiet guy who has strong interest in the girl Eun-ook (Park Min-jung). But the girl closes herself off from anyone, since she as a disfigured eye since a childhood accident. However, one day an american soldier (Mitch Mahlum), promises her to pay for an eye surgery, if she would become his "girlfriend"...

Review: In his newer movies Kim Ki-duk's motives are more meditative and easier to access. Violence and perversion nowadays still play a major role in his works, but it's not presented as shocking and repelling as in his earlier works. "Address Unknown" stands as a great example for his earlier works. For some this movie is so authentic because of its themes and depiction of violence, that it becomes unbearable to watch it. Some critics even write that this is truely a masterpiece, which they nonetheless can't recommend with a clear conscience, as this film is a mental torment, not everyone is able to withstand. Unfortunately, I don't fully agree with these critics. It is true in a way, that the movie's themes are underlined by the depicted violence, but the characters are so overloaden with pathologic tendencies, unchanneled violence and a general hatred, that "Address Unknown" above all else also feels alienating.

What exactly does Kim Ki-duk want to convey with his movie? For once, that war evokes suffering and solitariness even in its cold phase. The Americans are sent to a country that isn't theirs and they fight against an enemy, which they don't care about. But who is the enemy, anyway? This question is brought forward by an American himself in the course of the movie, and so the military base just seems to be out of place, as it is the home of people who actually just want to get back home and can't cotton up to a country to which they have no access, because of the cultural and linguistic barriers. The only thing the soldiers have interest in are the women, or rather the ladies of easy virtue. Naturally, this leads to even more pain and suffering, as we get to see by means of mixed breed Chang-guk. The american soldiers, or the war I should say, relentlessly works its way through the organism like cancer and destroys the different organs one after another. Applied to the film this means that not a single one of the characters is spared from mental and physical torment. Director Kim is so unyielding and merciless in the depiction of the consequences, that arise from this pain, that it will feel like a painful punch into the face.

Violence is the all-controlling and eroding motif. Humanity is lost in a chasm of lower instincts, that opens up, because pain doesn't allow for anything else to happen. "Address Unknown" has a big problem, though. The characters are all mentally sick. Not a single one of them can be called normal - maybe Ji-heum falls into that category, if any one - as every one of them embodies a different kind of violence. Chang-guk fights the pain of being regarded with disdain because of his origin as a half-breed by beating up his mother, who after all is the reason for his predicament. Nonetheless, he is not able, contrary to Dog-Eyes, to beat to death captured dogs with a baseball bat in order to sell the meat. Dog-Eyes on the other hand, who in disturbingly brutal scenes slaughters the dogs with a certain routine, can't stand that his girlfriend is beaten by her son Chang-guk. Neither one of them can serve the viewer as someone to relate to. We oftentimes even can't have pity on them, since they only deserve our rejection.

It isn't anything different with the other characters. Eun-ook, for instance, often behaves in a way that is by far anything but comprehensible. In her own twisted world her behavior might make sense, and would she have been only one of two or three characters of this kind in the movie, this could have been acceptable. However, since everyone in "Address Unknown" needs serious medical attention by a psychiatrist, the viewer has no other choice but to think of the depicted world as an unreal one. The actions of Chang-guk's mother at the end aren't just disgusting and sick, but they are once more proof, that Kim Ki-duk's world is an abstract and twisted image of our reality, in which everything bad is potentized.
Even though apparently there wasn't much money involved in the making of "Address Unknown" director Kim still manages to create a world that is consistent in its own right, which is mainly achieved by the good performances of the actors.

Still, there is a big flaw in the movie, namely the american soldier. Mitch Mahlum provides such an overdone and ridiculous performance of the mentally racked soldier, that it becomes painful to watch. This is even the more unfortunate as the character, played by a real actor, could had been quite multi-layered and complex. Even if the Americans don't come off well in the movie, this soldier nonetheless shows us that some of the Americans also are quite aware of the stupidity of war, so that the picture depicted in the movie doesn't become one-sided or a stereotype.
Next to violence, drugs, prostitution, vengeance and other negative emotions nothing good can survive in Kim's world. The ending and the film as a whole therefore proves to be an interesting, but also alienating low blow, which not everyone might be able to take. "Address Unknown" draws an at times surrealistic picure of the human abysm, a picture that is disconnected from reality and presented too compressed, which builds up an insurmountable distance between movie and viewer. A distance that is also happily chosen by the audience as a sort of self protection.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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