Breath: A South Korean Prison Romance

Another twisted, obsessive love story from South Korea's Kim Ki-duk, the 2007 Breath is a tale of two households riven by jealousy, revenge, and sexual longing. In one house are artist Yeon and her cheating husband. In the big house, prison, are Jin and three cellmates, one madly possessive of him. Not entirely out of revenge for her husband's infidelity, Yeon becomes fixated on Jin, first on TV, then visiting him in jail. He's on death row for a violent crime, so no way should they be allowed to meet, but the warden (played by director Kim) takes voyeuristic pleasure in watching their get-togethers via surveillance camera. She elaborately decorates the visiting room with seasonal wallpaper, dresses for each season, and sings a festive little song to the silent, suicidal Jin. It's charming—to Jin, the warden, and us viewers, too—at first, then gradually disturbing. Where can this relationship lead? Yeon's husband and Jin's cellblock paramour are also naturally upset by this alienation of affection. And her elaborate mini-musicals have their darker aspect, too, reminding the condemned Jin that he won't live long enough to see the changing seasons. Yeon also tells of a near-death experience from her childhood; there's a morbidity to this love affair staged so close to the waiting grave. Yet their compulsive behavior doesn't achieve the emotional credibility of Kim's prior 3-Iron or Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring. Breath finally seems a prisoner of its own script.

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