BREATHLESS (Yang Ik-joon). 130 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (January 14) at the Carlton. See Times. Rating: NNNN
The Korean title, Ddongpari, literally translates as "shit fly," so writer/director Yang Ik-joon had to come up with something new in English.
He chose Breathless in homage to Godard's art house classic, which also revolves around the relationship between a sociopathic gangster and a relatively innocent girl.
But the resemblance ends there. Korean writer/director Yang, who also plays the film's lead, has a very different movie in mind. He's not out to reshape cinema. He just wants to tell a strong story with sharply rendered characters, played out against an entirely unsentimental portrayal of a society seething with violence. And that's exactly what he's done.
Yang plays Sang-hoon, a brutal debt collector whose surly world view is shaped by a history of domestic abuse. His performance reveals several emotional layers in a character who desperately wants to be seen as nothing more than a one-dimensional bastard.
He's matched step for step by Kim Kot-bi as the equally damaged Yeon-hue, whose home life is just as much a nightmare as was Sang-hoon's. As they navigate their separate lives - which turn out to be interwoven in more ways than they know - Yang steers his movie toward a grim finale that's no less powerful for its predictability. Sometimes a formula plot is exactly what drama requires.