An almost wordless cinematic sonnet and an intoxicating romance tale, a loner who sleeps at empty houses becomes entwined with a mistreated housewife
There are 1,579 words of dialogue spoken in 3-Iron. There are usually around 250 words per page in a script. So, that is just over six pages of script. With the average script being around 110 pages, that leaves plenty of room for scene descriptions.
Those back-of-the-envelope calculations illustrate what to expect from this intriguing and utterly unique portrayal of love and lust. Gone are the lengthy proclamations of affection. The soul-baring is turned to mute.
Yet, we lose none of those messages. Instead, everything is unpacked in looks and actions, themselves often silent, to show the coming together of two lost souls.
Handsome loner Tae-suk (Jae Hee) rides around on his motorbike looking for empty houses to occupy for a few days. He repays the gift of the unwilling and unknowing absent hosts by contributing odd jobs around the house.
One night Tae-suk is startled awake in the latest stranger’s bed by Sun-hwa (Lee Seung-yeon), an abused wife fresh from her husband's latest attack.
From here, the pair form a bond and we witness them fall deeply in love, without a word barely spoken as they journey together to find more empty houses.
It is remarkable quite how effective and powerful 3-Iron is as a film. Done at a gentle pace, but utterly engaging and fascinating throughout.
A tenant of great filmmaking is the concept of ‘show don’t tell’, meaning filmmakers should avoid dumbed down explanation in dialogue. This is taken to the extreme when an entire story unfolds in near silence.
There is a temptation to suggest this is a slow-burn outing, but this is hardly a burn leading towards some manner of final explosion. Instead, we find ourselves utterly gripped by the poetic musings throughout.
While this is a film of tender romance and the blossoming of love as an understated act, it then also bursts into flurries violence and conflict.
All of this combines to produce something truly disorientating. Stated very much as a compliment. We are left rocking on our heels on how to feel about our central characters and their actions.
Love is a topic that has filled films, songs, poems, books and virtually every art form since the dawn of the artistic process. Perhaps we have heard so much, that a silent portrayal now works. Or perhaps the power of 3-Iron is its own ability to craft a completely understandable, yet entirely obscure, view of love we can largely comprehend.
There is another sense that this is a ghost story without ghosts. With the very much alive Tae-suk and Sun-hwa moving like ghosts – silent, haunting houses as they go, living in the shadows and outside the realm of audible society.
Highly unique, deeply fascinating and blurring the line between realism and surrealism, 3-Iron is an engaging look at love, abuse and life lived on the edges of societal functionality.