There are many legends of helpful house spirits and curious faeries who are never seen but always felt. There are stories of ghosts whose role is to observe or to to alter the natural world only slightly, just enough to skew perceptions, to cause a double take, a "how did that get there?" from the hapless. In myth and legend, these beings are part of a tapestry of creatures that dwell outside human understanding, just so characters or boogeymen to scare the easily gulled or simply curiosities passed along mouth to mouth, being a part of a folklore that is deep and grand and full. They exist as full blown fantastical creatures.

Taking that idea and stripping away the goblins and elves, the wizards and heroes, and slowly warping the tale to something akin to reality, reducing reference to traditions and other stories, filtering it all through the contemporary world and finding just one facet of the legend to explore, 3-Iron turns the idea of the ghost into a subtly magical realist story about those who are invisible to us. (One might argue it's merely an absurd convention or possibly science fiction, but in the end, no explanation besides the supernatural fits.)

A tweet from roujin suggests there are those who found misogyny in this film. My initial reaction was much the opposite, that this was a sympathetic story, told without much exploration of the subject of abuse, about people typically erased from the world. Our main characters are a homeless man and an abused woman, and they exist in between worlds, like brownies, cleaning and fixing while the homeowner is away, hoping never to be seen because being seen means being misunderstood, hated, and harmed. They have no voices, because our world does not listen to these people even when they scream for help; they learn to be inocuous and beyond the attention of the powers that be.

One of the crucial factors in deciding whether this is read as misogynistic, I think, is the ending's tone. It would be easy to read it as a happy ending and find it abhorrent that the film suggests that these characters might find happiness while still being bound to their abuser, but it seems equally likely that the film's ending is intended to be melancholy, seeing happiness for the two only in the impossible in between realm, in the fantasy and not the reality. It seemed to be instead a metaphor for the ephemeral things we cling to to make horrors tolerable.

Regardless of Ki-duk's intentions, my first response was to feel this phantasmal sorrow pervading the ending, especially because of the weightlessness portrayed. (Perhaps they are dead.) The sympathy for the forgotten is on display in the characters as they bury lost bodies with respect, as they resist the cruelty of the authorities, as they are dragged off by their abusers without recourse. The film treats them as prisoners who have no one to call for help (but each other) and who find strength in not being seen, who learn to survive in between worlds. That resonates with me no matter what the director intended.

March count: 3/30
Country: South Korea