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CANNES — In Kim Ki-duk’s surreal death row fantasy “Breath,” a young wife whose husband is cheating on her gains revenge by visiting a soon-to-be-executed murderer and having the strangest of affairs with him.
The Korean director is known for offbeat pictures such as “Crocodile” and “Samaritan Girl,” for which he won the Silver Bear as best director at the Berlin International Film Festival. His In Competition entry at Cannes will sustain that reputation. The film is unlikely, however, to make much headway beyond those who are already fans.
Discovering that her husband has taken a lover, Yeon (played by the Korean star who goes by the single name Zia) impulsively goes to the local prison and asks to see Jin, played by Chang Chen (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), a man condemned for killing his wife and children.
Jin has been given a lot of publicity because of his attempts at suicide while incarcerated. He occupies a cell with crumbling walls, instead of bars, that he shares with three other convicts. One of them uses a crude implement to carve images in the stone and every so often Jin grabs the tool and sticks it in his own neck.
Yeon’s visit touches the inarticulate prisoner and she goes to see him more frequently, decorating the visitors’ room with seasonal pictures and singing for him. The prison officials are surprisingly tolerant of their increasingly intimate meetings but step in when passions become heightened.
Two people are disturbed by this turn of events. One is Yeon’s otherwise passive husband (Ha Jung-woo); the other a cellmate (Kang In-hyung) who also has designs on Jin.
The husband is not only jealous but also concerned about what impact Yeon’s behavior is having on their young daughter (Kim Eun-seo). He dumps his lover and demands that Yeon put an end to her prison visits, which he fears are becoming conjugal.
The director, who also wrote the script, ups the tempo as Jin stabs his throat once more with the date of his execution growing nearer and Yeon becomes increasingly desperate to see him. He draws intense performances from his players, Zia especially, and creates some startling images within the curious logic of his tale. It has something to do with inhaling badness and exhaling goodness but those expecting it to make sense shouldn’t exactly hold their breath.
A Kim Ki-duk Film production in association with Cineclick Asia and Sponge
Director-screenwriter-producer: Kim Ki-duk
Executive producers: Kim Ki-duk, Kim Do-hun
Director of photography: Sung Jong-moo
Art director: Hwang In-jun
Costume designer: Lee D-yeon
Editor: Wang Su-an
Running time — 84 minutes
No MPAA rating
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