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Original Title:

South Korea 2007


Kim Ki-duk

Chang Chen
Park Ji-ah
Ha Jung-woo
Kim Ki-duk

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Story: Jang Jin (Chang Chen) is on death row and already tried to end his life two times. Without success. The news report about Jang's case over and over again, so that unhappy housewife Yeon (Park Ji-ah) also hears about him. Yeon has to struggle with dull everyday life and is married to a boring husband (Ha Jung-woo), who to make things worse also seems to cheat on her. The only thing that still matters to Yeon is her daughter.
Then, one day Yeon goes to the prison Jang is sitting in and wants to see him. She says, that she is the ex-girlfriend of the inmate. She is eventually allowed to see Jang, thanks to a voeuristic prison warden, who wants to keep watching Yeon via several cameras.
On the first meeting with Jang, Yeon tells him about her own near-death experience when she was still a child, and asks him not to try to kill himself in the future again.
During the following weeks Yeon visits the inmate over and over again, whereas she gets closer to him, too. An unusual bond starts to unite the two. But where might this relationship be heading to?

Review: Kim Ki-duk presents his newest movie as a surprisingly easily digestable drama. At least, it looks like that at a first glance. Later on in the movie, however, the director is seemingly trying very hard to work in as many motives into his film as possible. And by doing so he seems to have lost sight of the quintessence of the message in his film. Granted, when looking at a Kim Ki-duk film there is always a lot left open for the viewer's interpretation, concerning solving several riddles wrapped up in appealingly beautiful looking pictures, but in "Breath" it's not easy to be certain about what food for thought Kim actually wanted to provide his audience with. You get a rough idea what his film's topics are, which are once again seclusion, or also the oppressing power of everyday life's emptiness, as well as disappointed love. The movie is full of hurt individuals and also makes you think about some interesting stuff. In the end, you also gotta ask yourself, why the movie's title is "Breath". The answer is the pain, disappointement and void that the different characters are filled with. Its these feelings that get them all choked up.

Director Kim also once again can't refrain from implementing the motif of four seasons. Yeon covers the visiting room with wallpapers of the different seasons and welcomes Jang with a new song, that fits to the respective season, every time they meet. And once again, the viewer has to pay special attention to the details, because they aren't in here for nothing. It's not a secret that Yeon actually doesn't know the prisoner and just wants to use him to get back at her husband for his cheating. It's pretty transparent.
Yeon gets closer to Jang with every new season. To be exactly, this is also some sort of compressed time trick, that makes their relationship evolve a little bit faster than normally possible. In fact, Yeon also seems to be wanting to relive her relationship with her husband, as we get to know later on that one of the wallpapers shows a place in which she met her husband for the first time. The question remaining is what Yeon expects to win from this affair? Simple revenge or some sort of catharsis?

One of the biggest flaws in Kim's newest piece of art becomes especially apparent in Chang Chen's character. Chang ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Silk") is without a doubt a great actor, but he can't really convince in his role. Chang, who is a native Taiwanese, doesn't speak a single word Korean, of course, but for Kim and his preference of minimalistic dialogues this proves to be no problem at all. Jang can't speak, because of his suicide attempt. It's simple as that. As a matter of fact, Chang's acting is full of effort, especially when you think about, that he could only convey his emotions and thoughts by gestures, yet, his characters remains incredibly enigmatic and one-dimensional. We never really get to know something about him, and when we later on learn about what crime he commited, this just doesn't fit into the picture we have of him in our head.
However, to make up for this, Park Ji-ah, who acts under the name Zia this time, fleshes out the different facets of her inner feelings of her character very credibly. She is one step away from madness, resp. to choke to death, and she also oftentimes toys with the idea to throw herself from the balcony. Her family is torn apart and so is her heart.

Kim keeps his film in cold and white colors, especially to underline and visualize the suffocating coldness and the emptiness within the characters. Aside from the wallpapered visitor's room, there are almost solely impersonal, dull rooms and surroundings to be seen. Despite all that, Kim doesn't refrain from also using some black humor every now and then. It just must have been meant in a comedic way that Jang doesn't manage to hit his carotid even after several suicide attempts all with a sharp object he rammed right into his throat.
Moreover, there is also a rather odd homoerotic relationship between Jang and one of his cellmates, even though this relationship is actually something wished for by the cellmate and not by Jang. Nevertheless, what's really bizarre is Kim Ki-duk's supporting role as a prison warden in front of a screen. A man who has full power of how far Jang and Yeon are allowed to go during their meetings. At some time it's a kiss and at others it might be a little bit more. Kim seems to be living out his voyeuristic side and also bestows the role of the director upon himself. Mind you, not outside of the movie, but also within his film. A nice idea, but this also brings us to the main point of criticism in "Breath".

Kim Ki-duk has to hear over and over again, that his movies are simply made for film festivals and critics of foreign countries, not for a Korean audience. That's also why his films aren't received that well in his home country. His work seems to be more popular in countries like France and Italy. One reason for this maybe can be found in "Breath". This movie is truely art in the sense that it feels artificial. The motifs of the characters aren't comprehensible. Why is Yeon's husband letting his wife visit Jang willingly, even though he knows, that she has an affair with him? Sure, there may be some good reasons you can come up with, but then again these aren't human or realistic reasons.

Furthermore, "Breath" lacks some real emotions, so that we never feel moved by it at all. Kim already proved that he can do better than this with his movies "Spring, summer, fall, winter... and spring" or "3-Iron". Also, this time the director refrains from shocking his audience, as he avoids depicting violence in any form. Moreover, even the only sex scene in the movie is shot with strange restraint. All in all, Kim Ki-duk seems to be showing merely a light version of what he actually might have intended to show. Maybe he actually tries to be appealing to someone, which maybe the critics and Korean viewers alike? It's hardly like this, because for this "Breath" simply is too unresponsively.
For a movie that has been shot in under two weeks "Breath" may be an interesting film, but on an emotional level, the director just fails. If you are laudated by critics like Kim Ki-duk is, then you really have to put up with the audience having specially high expectations. And based on that "Breath" is at best appealing, but average stuff.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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