‘Pieta’ tries to redeem a thuggish loan shark through motherly love

Lee Jung-jin plays a sadistic loan shark in Kim Ki-duk's "Pieta" Credit: Drafthouse Films
Lee Jung-jin plays a sadistic loan shark in Kim Ki-duk’s “Pieta.”
Credit: Drafthouse Films

‘Pieta’
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Stars: Lee Jeong-jin, Jo Min-soo
Rated: NR
2 (out of 5) Globes

Put simply, South Korean director Kim Ki-Duk is the type of filmmaker who would make a fraught, sometimes sexually outre film about a mother-son relationship and call it “Pieta.” Kang-do (Lee Jeong-jin) is a miserable, sadistic loan shark with a hairdo borrowed from mid-1990s London. While doing his usual duties of brutally crippling marks and using the insurance money to pay back their cartoonishly high debts, he runs afoul of Mi-son (Jo Min-soo), a mysterious middle-aged woman he claims is the mother who gave him up soon as he was born. Perhaps Kang-do wouldn’t have become a psychopathic rapist meanie if he’d had a nice mother who loved him, the film wonders. She’s intent to make up for lost time, even if that only means putting in a few extra kicks to some poor guy’s ribs after Kang-do has already worked him over.

When he started out in the late ’90s and early aughts, Kim was one of the nastier of the South Korean tyros, which is saying something. (We won’t reveal into which body part a fish hook was attached in “The Isle.”) In the middle of the last decade, he suddenly calmed down. “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring,” “3-Iron” and “Time” parlaid his penchant for heavy formalism and questionable symbolism into satisfying (though still questionable) explorations of faith, morality and persona. Then he went over the edge. “The Bow” and other recent films go too far into simplistic bathos, making the paucity of his ideas all the more noticeable and ruining the balance that made those three films seem like the work of a promising talent.

“Pieta,” Kim’s first to get significant notice in ages, swings back the other way. A scene where Kang-do shoves his hand into his alleged mother’s nether regions, declaiming “I came out of here?” is a juvenile’s idea of transgression, conceived chiefly to be debated and excoriated in reviews like this. It’s all building to pat salvation anyway, with Mi-son gradually — but not that gradually — breaking down her potential son’s defenses, exposing him to the harm he’s caused others and making his heart, once two sizes too small, perhaps become two sizes too big. (OK, it stops before it gets that bad.) As with anything, presentation can make even the most noxious tale somewhat tolerable. Kim has a plain, direct, almost earnest directing style that makes following “Pieta” on one level satisfying, even as its unsatisfying destination is never for a second in doubt.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Gunther from 'Friends' talks Central Perk

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."

Local

Central Perk opens in SoHo

Central Perk, of "Friends" fame, is giving out free coffee in SoHo through Oct. 18.

National

Beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch reproaches NFL over domestic abuse

Anheuser-Busch chastised the NFL for its handling of domestic violence cases, making it the first major advertiser to put pressure on the league.

Local

Sen. Krueger dishes on prospect of legal marijuana…

New Yorkers may see the legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as 2015 if State Senator Liz Krueger (D) gets her way. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will…

Music

FREEMAN makes Freeman a free man from Ween

For nearly 30 years, Aaron Freeman was known endearingly to his listeners as Gene Ween. But with "FREEMAN," he makes it clear that he's gone somewhere else.

Television

'Outlander' recap: Season 1, Episode 6: 'The Garrison…

Whipping, punching, kicking and a marriage contract. "Outlander" is not for the faint of heart this week with "The Garrison Commander."

The Word

The Word: Hey girl, it's a girl for…

It's a girl for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who reportedly welcomed a daughter last Friday, according to Us Weekly. The super-private couple managed to…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 16: 'New Girl,'…

Check out the season premiere of "New Girl," as Jess competes with Jessica Biel for a guy's attentions.

MLB

5 top contenders for NL Rookie of the…

The outing rekindled award talk for deGrom, who appears to hold the top spot for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Metro breaks down a few other contenders.

College

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

NFL

Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.

NFL

Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.

Style

Rachel Zoe: New York Fashion Week Spring 15

Rachel Zoe goes 'Glam bohemia' for Spring.

Food

Where to find SweeTango apples

Introduced in 2009, SweeTango — a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Zestar — is a sweet apple with plenty of crunch.

Style

London Fashion Week recap

London Fashion week gets in on the action with politics, heritage and summertime living.

Food

Padma Lakshmi's recipe for green mango curry

Padma Lakshmi shares her recipe for green mango curry in UNICEF's new book, "UNICHEF."