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Original Title:
Paran Daemun

South Korea 1998


Kim Ki-duk

Lee Ji-eun
Lee Hae-eun
Ahn Jae-mo
Jeong Hyeong-gi
Son Min-seok
Jang Hang-seon
Jang Dong-jik
Lee Dal-hyeong

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Birdcage Inn

Story: The prostitute Jin-ah (Lee Ji-eun) moves into the home of a family who is running a small hostel. However, the family actually earns its money by letting prostitutes work for them. The daughter of the family, Hye-mi (Lee Hae-eun), despises the business of her family and therefore has a special aversion to Jin-ah. The prostitute is raped by the father of the family (Jang Hang-seon) and his son Hyun-woo (Ahn Jae-mo) even bugs Jin-ah's room to eavesdrop on her when she works. Eventually, he wants to use her services as well. Men seem to have a particular attraction to the new girl in the family, but she in fact seemingly longs for nothing more than to become part of a family. For this reason it's especially important to her to get to know Hye-mi better, but just when the daughter finally exchanges some words with her, Jin-ah's old pimp gets released out of prison and returns to her. Her last chance to escape the spiral of violence and rape is to build up a friendship with Hye-mi.

Review: There is a lot you can say about Kim Ki-duk but certainly not that he hasn't got anything to tell. At least not in his early years. Later on many of his themes repeated themselves but in his third film "Birdcage Inn" there is still the wind of innovation blowing. At the same time this drama is some kind of bridge. While "Crocodile" and "Wild Animals" were still looking quite amateurish we already get to see Kim's technical progress here when it comes to style which he developed even more in his following "The Isle", therefore, making his movies easier accessable for a wider audience. It's not that easy to have a normal viewer-movie-character-relationship with the individuals in his works as they oftentimes behave somewhat strange or rather are a bit twisted in their minds, but behind that there is always some kind of inner wound that you have to discover. And that's what turns out to be the attraction in Kim Ki-duk's movies.

Jin-ah is a girl that has a certain physical influence on men. It's as if she is unwillingly putting a spell on them and they in return can't fight the urge to want spending the night with her. Director and script writer Kim introduces different characters who sooner or later all use the services of the daughter of joy in the end. Some of them pay her money, others simply rape her, but ultimately it's all the same to Jin-ah, she can't flee this world of violence. The reason why she can't and how she even ended up with this profession is only hinted at. Probably she had fallen in love with her former pimp and after that never had the chance to go back to another life. Or she just doesn't know how. However, it's obvious that she yearns for becoming part of a family more than anything else and for that she wants to earn Hye-mi's friendship. A girl that despises her and hasn't even the slightest interest to get to know the person behind the prostitute.

The violence exerted on women, in this case Jin-ah, is often standing in the focus of Kim Ki-duk's movies. He remarks that men have no other choice but to pay women for what they might not get otherwise and that's because of their sexual drive. For many women this might be reason enough to roll their eyes and dismiss this as the typical excuse of men, but you just have to take a look into the animal kingdom and you will see that roles are sometimes reversed. Modern man exists only for 160000 or 6000 years depending on what criteria you choose. But our social moral norms and laws have been in effect for a much shorter period of time, thus, our biology couldn't even have started to adopt to our new way of living. These are uncomfortable truths but somebody has to address them and Kim Ki-duk is that man. The fascinating thing is that in the end you can somehow understand the oftentimes mentally sick individuals in his movies to a certain degree.

It's a sad world Jin-ah is living in and yet she has not abandoned herself to fate completely. There are certain lines for her she doesn't cross and of course that's exactly were she experiences some assaults. However, there are also a few man standing at her side, even the father of the family she moves to and who rapes her at the beginning, protects her if it's necessary. In fact, he is even a likeable man who only talks little which is also why the few words he presents Jin-ah with as some kind of comfort have a special meaning to them: We are all sinners.
Sinners you'll find a lot of in "Birdcage Inn" and that's exactly what gets Hye-mi so worked up. Even her boyfriend doesn't seem to be any different. But it turns out that the only man who has a good heart and carries some kind of virtue within himself gets cheated on by the very same woman who was so busy swinging the moral hammer shortly before. Yes, it is a gruesome world in which the good guys will simply go down. It doesn't pay off to be no sinner.

Still, Kim also wraps his message in some symbols and metaphers. The snow falling in the middle of summer of course symbolizes purity and at the same time bestows something dreamy upon the film. The goldfish on the other hand seems to be standing for Jin-ah herself. It isn't always treated nicely, Jin-ah also commits certain acts of violence on it, and yet he survives every attack. Later on he even survives in salt water!
A little bit annoying is the soundtrack, though, which seems to be taken right out of a telephone waiting loop. Apart from that it's the fascination we have for the characters and the story that make the movie so worthwhile despite its slow pacing. Some abstruse scenes even bring some humor into the movie and the wish of being part of a family also carries some warmth into the otherwise cold world of "Birdcage Inn". A drama that alienates, fascinates and polarizes - simply a true Kim Ki-duk!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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