Early on in 'Pieta', winner of last year's Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, director Ki-duk Kim presents us with a simple but cleverly effective motif. Turning up at a debtor's business, Kang-Do has his hand repeatedly slammed in a door as the panicking client attempts to keep him out. Kang-Do is unmoved by the pain, however. Soon after, when Jang attempts to enter his house, Kang-Do likewise slams her hand in his door and she is equally unmoved. Instantly, Kim plants the seeds in our minds that these two people have a connection and are broken to a point where physical pain has become meaningless. It's one of the best moments of 2013 cinema but, unfortunately, Kim can't, or at rather refuses to, sustain such narrative subtlety for the remainder of the film.
It's a simple yet intriguing premise but Kim, like so many of his Korean film-making peers, seems more intent on attempting to shock his viewers and test their limits of endurance than telling the story in an involving manner. The first half of the film sees him concentrate on a litany of vile acts, including torture, incest and rape. I'm no prude, so my problem with this sort of thing isn't that I find it offensive or shocking. At this point, nothing shocks me. I just find it pathetic and juvenile, especially when it disrupts and contradicts the narrative, as it does here.
Kim asks us to warm to Kang-Do but I honestly can't remember a character this despicable so the director is simply asking too much. Jang's empathy for him is, equally, too hard to swallow, whether she is his mother or not.
Somewhere in this compilation of atrocities is a message about the depths money can make people sink to but, despite this being his 18th feature film, Kim presents it all in far too childish a manner to warrant us taking it seriously.