Lee Jung-jin

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Pieta is an unnerving film. It makes you cringe with disgust, it disarms you with moments of tenderness, and it frequently veers into the unexpected. Directed by Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring, 3-Iron), the film takes place in the slum of Cheonggyecheon, an indigent part of Seoul that used to be a thriving factory town, but is now slowly being torn down in favor of erecting financial buildings. When the few surviving factory workers owe money, they fall victim to a vicious loan shark who himself finds his own challenges in the form of his long-lost mother. While Pieta might take some time to start engaging its audience, it succeeds in creating a palpable sense of unease throughout and running the emotional gamut with its two leads. The loan shark is Gang-do (Lee Jung-jin), a seemingly emotionless man who brutally goes from debtor to debtor and injures them so that he can get repaid through their insurance money. These injuries range from amputations to leg breaking and usually take place with the factory workers’ own equipment. He cripples the men in front of their wives and mothers, causing additional emotional duress. Given the fact that the factory workers earn their livelihood from being physically capable to use their machinery, Gang-do’s handiwork also forces the now-cripples to lose everything and not be able to provide for their families.

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Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a collector for a loan shark. He cripples his non-paying clients in order to collect the insurance money. One day a woman, played by Cho Min-soo, appears claiming to be his mother who abandoned him as a child. This discovery leads Kang-do down a path which includes reconsidering his line of work and his viewpoint on life in general. Kim Ki-duk‘s Pieta plays wonderfully into an ever-growing subgenre of South-Korean revenge films (including I Saw the Devil, Oldboy and The Man From Nowhere). Here we’re able to enjoy a very slow burning plot as it’s broken into two separate sections. The first being where Kang-do is the collector who breaks limbs to reconcile debts, the next being where he’s a love drowned character, adoring his mother in an almost childlike state. As the film turns to that second half the reveal leads to interesting ideas of what one will do both for revenge and for love. We see characters endure in the face of despair as Kang-do’s mother goes missing and he goes hunting, believing this to be the work of one of his crippled former clients.

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