Breathless

Cast: Ik-Joon Yang, Kot-bi Kim, Man-shik Jeong; Direction: Ik-Joon Yang

Breathless is not a violent film. In fact in the benchmark of South Korean films, it is one of the softest films ever made in the south of Pyongyang. Yet, there is enough violence in the film to make you wince. Yet this film is about the power of non-violence.  And if you remove all the expletives and other offensive words from the film, the script would not exceed even one page. Yet this film is about the power of love.

Sang-Hoon, a temperamental and foul-mouthed debt-collector is the protagonist. He could be a character from anywhere. He could be placed in Brazil, Columbia, Brooklyn, or even a slum in Chennai. His job is to go out every day and beat up people who owed his money-lender boss. He is the perfect case of someone choosing a perfect profession. As they say, choose a job you are passionate about and you’d never have to work a day in your life. Sang-Hoon could write a book on this. He can’t do anything but be violent and that obviously helps in his job. He is extremely successful to the extent that any new ‘employee’ is sent to shadow him as a trainee. He is fond of his sister’s five year old son but he can’t express his affection without showering him with expletives. His own friendship with his boss is quite complex. From the outset, his boss certainly despises violence and actively discourages Sang-Hoon’s waywardness. He wants only ‘as much of violence’ as required to get the job done. But Sang-Hoon doesn’t carry any measuring cups. He is just an angry man, without a reason for his anger. Well, there’s a teeny-bit of flashback but that conspicuously refrains from explaining much. His first encounter with his girlfriend, the so-called ‘meet-cute’ will go into history as the most unromantic encounter. Even Bala could not have thought of that.

Breathless, unlike the title, does not hurtle past its duration. It treads quietly and carefully past each scene. It was almost like Ik-Joon Yang wanted to savour each scene. The stead cam  based jerky camera alone conveys the tension in the air.

As a cinematic exercise, Ik-Joon Yang does not tread unchartered waters. Nor is it a trendsetter in any other sense. However, it is an exercise in offering a pure cinematic experience. The visual poetry of carefully and caringly arranged scenes obstinately proving that good cinema doesn’t happen in the Final Cut Pro table, but skilled acting and calm and relaxed direction. The end is a bit disappointment but it doesn’t take away any experience that we have already undergone.

Breathless could have been a Tamil film. Dhanush can be Sang-Hoon from Chennai slums. The debt-collector job is very relevant to our milieu. Alas, we can’t have as many expletives in our films, even though the street language is rich with offensive words used very freely, not just in the slums but in the upper echelons as well. But our cultural warriors who believe that Tamil is the ‘purest’ language in the world and Tamils are the purest race in the world will not allow a film like Breathless happen. And without so much of violence and offensive language, the message of love and compassion could not be conveyed, at least as conceived by Ik-Joon Yang. Until we watched Breathless, we didn’t know that such an irony is cinematically possible. And that’s the success of the creator.