Story: Lee Kang-do (Lee Jeong-jin) is a debt collector. If he shouldn't get his money he doesn't refrain from committing any atrocity.
Therefore, he has already turned quite a few of his victims into cripples in order to get his hands on the insurance policy, and some of them even took
their lives. But Kang-do's world is completely turned upside down when one day a woman (Jo Min-soo) stands at his doorstep and claims to be his mother
who left him alone after giving birth to him. The debt collector turns her away several times, but the woman is stubborn and wants to atone for her sins.
She cooks for her son and does the household chores while Kang-do continuous his work. At first she even observes him doing his job and blames herself
for her son's brutality. She left him growing up without love and so she can't blame him for who he is. Slowly Kang-do comes to appreciate the new mother
in his life and he even shows changes in his character. But he has already caused too much pain, which is now looking for a way to strike back at him...
Review: "Pieta" is a gruesome movie but this isn't meant in an evaluative sense. Kim Ki-duk's 18th movie is a return to old form. Kim
may be picking up old motives again, but they are interwoven with new ideas and he even turns out to be surprisingly obviously socio-critical. The
motive standing above everything else may be the mother-son relationship as well as suffering and absolution, but this aside the director also criticizes
capitalism and shows what kind of tragedies derive from it. However, eventually you can safely call "Pieta" an unofficial sequel to "Bad Guy". But what makes
this drama so successful is that at the end you are feeling incredibly exhausted and depleted. Kim's movie might be full of monsters but they are monsters
you can have sympathy for. Thus, the Italian title of the movie fittingly means "piety" or "sympathy".
Violence and pain have always played a major role in Kim's works. The first half of "Pieta" is full of it and not everyone will be willing to endure it. The movie takes place in dirty slums and the people who lend money from Kang-do are all desperate individuals. Kim's fascination for machines, he once worked at a factory himself, is all-apparent in the film and unfortunately you can also do a lot of gruesome stuff with those machines. The director skillfully plays with the viewers' expectations and so one of the cruelest scenes maybe is the one in which actually nothing of what we expect really happens. Anyway, pain has also a different meaning to Kim. In his book pain is love - and vice versa.
Through pain the characters in Kim's movies prove their love. Through love pain emerges. Two sides of the same coin. The supposed mother, who suddenly turns up again, is looking for absolution and believes to only be able to get it by bearing pain. That's also why in one scene characteristic of Kim she is even willing to eat a piece of flesh from her son's leg. The director's ideas may be provocative, shocking and even deviant but they all stand in a certain context and therefore certainly aren't just some gimmicks. There is a message Kim Ki-duk wants to convey and he does it through characters who may all seem rather twisted but still deserve our sympathy since there are reasons for their pathological behavior. For Kang-do growing up without a mother has also been a life without love.
Hence it isn't a surprise that the director's wish for going back into the womb and therefore return to the fount of existence is once again dealt with. In "Pieta" the relationship between mother and son also clearly shows an oedipal touch. The small scenes in which Kang-do tries to catch up on his lost childhood in a quite entertaining fashion seem astonishingly buoyant taking into account Kim's usual stories, but such scenes are soon overtaken by gruesome reality. Yet, the director manages to make the viewer laugh out loud occasionaly at the most inappropriate moments. The two actors deliver good performances, it's just somewhat irritating that Jo Min-soo seems a bit too young for the role of a mother. Moreover, you could criticize that the relationship of the two at some points develops too suddenly.
While the first half of the movie is permeated with violence "Pieta" walks down a more quiet and actually even poetic path towards the end. Those who know Kim Ki-duk will just have been waiting for that moment and surely won't feel betrayed. Because it's just towards the end that the drama gains real depth. There are still some surprises waiting for us and they are like a heavy kick in the guts. As already stated the director is also criticizing capitalism and states that money is the source of all evil - maybe this also being some sort of embitterment resulting from the missing commercial success of his movies - but eventually it's love, hate, revenge and forgiveness that stand in the focus of this grim drama. On the Venice Film Festival Kim Ki-duk won the Golden Lion for "Pieta" and his efforts. A movie that will deprive you of all your strength and is filled with a very special magic of tragedy. One of Kim's best movies.