Gang-Do (Lee Jeong-jin) is the cruelest debt collector in Cheonggyecheon, a decrepit industrial neighborhood in Seoul mostly inhabited by metal workers and the down-and-out. If anyone is late with a payment, Gang-Do will cripple them (a hand at best, their back at worst) so he can collect the insurance money. His clients live in fear, and he’s left many a broken family in his wake. But then the mysterious Mi-Son (Jo Min-soo) shows up at Gang-Do’s door claiming to be the mother who abandoned him as a baby. Is this criminal loner starting to feel pangs of conscience?
Since this is a picture by Korean filmmaking firebrand Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron), conscience and redemption can wait until the last, very striking sequence. (You’ll never be able to view highway divider lines the same way again.) Mostly, Pieta is concerned with exploring every nook and cranny of its memorably seedy locale, as well as the increasingly transgressive bond that builds between Gang-Do and Mi-Son. The longer they spend in each other’s company, the rawer their behavior becomes. It’s likely that two incestuous interactions between the purported blood relatives will be a deal breaker for most viewers, and both of these scenes admittedly play with a degree of poseur provocation. Stick with the film, though, and you might find yourself strangely moved by its oddball mix of ripe melodrama, overwrought violence and regional verisimilitude.
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