Please note: the placing of Kim Ki-duk's 3-Iron at #3 on my list is purely coincidental; indeed, it occupied the #2 spot for several months before being supplanted by another title a few months ago. In fact, the film has been etched on my 2005 list for more than a year - I saw it at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, and was this close to including it in that year's list. However, American/Canadian distribution dates have a habit of making my life miserable, so I dutifully held off until now. 3-Iron opened small in early 2005, and has not received much more attention on video (what's more, the general reaction to it has been surprisingly indifferent-to-negative, with a couple of exceptions here and there). Watching it back then in 2004, I was almost sure that this one would end up a critical fave, admired for Kim's playful direction and generous use of understated humour. Instead, some were bored by the lethargic pacing (that apparently added upto little) or concerned with the depiction of marital abuse. Obviously, I find such critics nitpicking where they should be celebrating a film so freshly presented, gorgeously composed and, ultimately, deeply haunting.
It is a deconstruction of the human being and the life he or she leads by asking the basic yet integral question: "Who are you?". What exactly are you made up of? The personal possessions that you accumulate? Your house? The relationships you uphold to give you meaning? The hero of this story (played by a gleefully mischievous Hee Jae) is a drifter who constructs his identity with bits and pieces of other people's by entering their vacant homes and making use their things, then dropping them all in search of new surroundings. By the end of the story, having been misunderstood for his intentions and punished for straying so far outside the norm, he leaves the material world completely (or the samsara wheel of birth, death and re-birth, if you prefer). Also playing a part in the drama is the worldly businessman Min-gyu (Hyuk-ho Kwon), and his dejected, broken wife (a brilliant Seung-yeon Lee). A screenplay built on silences, pregnant pauses and meaningful blocking, 3-Iron is quite unlike anything I've seen before. I love this film dearly for how you can read absolutely anything into it (especially the ending - [scroll to bottom]), and yet for how it is entirely self-contained and formidable in its own worldview and philosophy. I feel it's the kind of film that will just appreciate more and more upon repeated viewings. Of all of the pictures released this year, this is the one that caught me the most off-guard, and led me through a profound journey that truly enriched me for the better.