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Architecture 101 & Pieta at KOFFIA 2013

What is it with Korean romantic comedies? Even in their most banal, manipulative, nonsensical state they still manage to out-everything that Hollywood attempts to shove down our collectively willing throats. There’s no point in discussing the travesties of the past decade—we’re all well aware, and worse off for the experiences—and the likelihood they’re not going to improve anytime soon. Enter Architecture 101.

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Director Yong-joo Lee’s sophomore effort is something of a sensible reimagining of a hundred different previous romances, minus the torridness. On topic here is a house—and what a house!—and how it unites two former lovers from college. Seung-min is a dedicated architect who sleeps overnight at work; Seo-Yeon is his former college obsession who tracks him down so he can rebuild an old house for her and her father to inhabit. The story of how they met in college is a typically charming nod to fairytales of old: he was scared to death at the sight of her; she wanted him to break out of his shell and become the man she needed him to be.

It has the same sheen as the antics behind Amelie (in any other light beyond romance the relationship would look a bit prison-cell stalkerish). But that’s not the point in Architecture 101: this is a film encompassing a fifteen-year gap in stories. On one end is the comically nervous Seung-min asking his friends for advice on how to win this girl over while the other discusses what could have happened if he’d, well, just got over it and asked her out fifteen years ago. This is about lost opportunities and, rather fortunately, not seeing them all being made up. If the last shot can be forgiven—it is seriously lame—then the rest of the film is rather quite fantastic.

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Kim Ki-duk’s 18th film Pieta is, in short, a blow to the senses. (As is my understanding as this is the first Ki-duk film I have seen, such a reaction is quite normal.) Kang-do is one of the meanest, most ruthless bastards to grace the cinema: he works as a loan shark, recovering unpaid debts for his lenders in the most brutal ways possible. His clients are maimed for insurance claims, rendering them crippled and unable to function. This is his normal life, a reality without personal consequence, until a woman purporting to be his mother visits him one day.

It’s here the film delves into subjects such as incest and sexual violence and ingesting disgusting objects, if that even has a name. This isn’t a difficult film, in the Irreversible sense, merely a visually visceral experience which later becomes a study of mental anguish. It’s also incredibly depressing, opening and closing with a rather savage death, but this is by-the-by for Ki-duk regulars.

Reflecting on it a day later, I’m inspired to begin viewing his back catalogue and Pieta will most likely end up being one of the best of the whole festival.

The Korean Film Festival is currently playing in Melbourne until September 11 at ACMI cinemas.

Nicholas Brodie – follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire

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