It's difficult what to think of this film from Kim Ki-duk the Director of the surprising and beautiful Bin-jip (3-Iron) (Filmstalker review). I really wanted to love this film, but there's just a little too much left unexplored and unexplained, and I was left with a feeling of wanting to have had more of these characters lives.
The story is touching and is built well, particularly the character of Yeon played by Park Ji-a. Her life story is revealed slowly and through a similar technique in 3-Iron, without the need for huge amounts of dialogue and explanation. Her story comes through looks, well framed shots and the smallest of items.
Through the quiet looks and glances between characters so much emotion and tension is conveyed, as well as the story itself. It's something that is missing from Hollywood so much, the quiet moment and the subtlety of emotion. It really is amazing to see how much is conveyed without the need for these explanatory scenes and speeches that Hollywood seems so fond of using and overusing.
The film tells the story of Yeon who finds that her loveless marriage is getting worse as she discovers that her husband, who seems to care little for her already, is having an affair. In desperation she reaches out to a story on the news about a death row prisoner who has attempted suicide yet again, and in a flash of rebellion she goes to visit him.
The prisoner is biding his time before his sentence is carried out and has no visitors, but when Yeon visits him he is strangely drawn to her. Each time she visits she brings with her a different season and decorates the visiting room in that style, she sings to him and tells him of her life, and he never speaks a word in return.
A bond and attraction grows between them, and each visit escalates with the problems in her own life.
The characters were played well with both leads of the wife played by Park Ji-a, and Chang Chen who played the prisoner, giving strong performances. Her outburst of emotion does touch you as very real, and Park Ji-a manages to convey his emotions without overplaying the physical performance and without using speech.
The husband, played by Ha Jung-woo, is also good although his part is quite limited. You really do feel the frustrations of scenes where he is struggling to understand his wife and where he has given up everything in order to try and rescue his marriage.
The film has quite a washed out feeling to it, except when the woman has decorated the visiting cell, here we see bold and vibrant colours, and emotion is at the fore. Elsewhere in the film the colours and locations feel cold and lifeless, much like the character's themselves. Outside the prison meeting room winter is setting in, much like the couple's relationship, but inside the seasons reflect the growing romance.
There are some really photogenic scenes in the film, especially at the couple's home which is a great location. Much like 3-Iron the cinematography is strong, although I think that film has the edge over Breath.
During the film there were a couple of moments that broke the continuity of sound, and I'm not sure if this was the print we were watching or if it was deliberate, but in a couple of scenes just seem to cut the sound from a scene quite harshly.
However, as much as I can say positive things about the film I felt some confusion about it, mainly due to some of the unexplored and unresolved themes and threads in the story.
The woman's relationship with her husband is brought into conflict and resolved, but the more intriguing of the themes about her past, her fascination with death, the connection with the prisoner and the reasons behind his crime are left dangling. Even some of the aspects of that relationship, and the possible conflicts we could face between the couple are left alone.
These threads abandoned me near the ending of the film and left me unsure of how to really feel about it, even now I'm a bit unsure if this was a deliberate move to leave the audience feeling this way, or it was just the way I interpreted it.
One of the ideas I was left with, and again unsure if I should be feeling this or not, is that the thread of the prisoner is really a MacGuffin, and the core of the film is the relationship between the wife and the husband. That being said, if it was the case, I do feel that the couple's relationship wasn't concentrated on enough and too much was given to the MacGuffin side of the story.
However I'm not really sure if that was meant to be the case, but by the end of the film I felt that the prisoner story thread was there to give a contrast to the normality rather than bolster the husband and wife plot line, which for me, was where the real interest lay.
Overall I was much more disengaged than I was with 3-Iron. Breath seems to concentrate less on the relationships and the characters and more on the strange thread of the relationship with the prisoner. While I understood some of the messages coming from this, and how they related to the real relationship, I still felt it didn't go anywhere and was more of a plot device for the woman to go through before the end of the film.
You know what though, the ending made me realise how much I really miss snow!