Breathless (R18)

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The ViewDunedin Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/01/2010

b>Three out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Breathless is a difficult, frequently unpleasant film with a deeply unsympathetic lead character but it's also well acted, delivers a powerful message and is oddly compelling if you can get past all the beatings.

What's it all about?
Not to be confused with either Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 classic or the Richard Gere remake, Breathless is written and directed by Yang Ik-June, who also stars as Sang-hoon, a violent, troubled debt collector who works for his best friend (Man-Shik Jeong), swears constantly and frequently lashes out at friends, colleagues and bystanders alike. Seemingly possessed by a violent incident in his past, Sang-hoon gradually finds a calming influence in his friendship with equally troubled, equally smart-mouthed schoolgirl Yeon-hee (Kim Khobbi), as well as his relationships with his stepsister and her young son.

The Good
The performances are excellent. Yang Ik-June's facial expression rarely changes throughout the film but he does manage to suggest a (very) deeply buried human side, even if his outward character is utterly unsympathetic (his first meeting with Yeon-hee involves him spitting on her and then punching her in the face). Kim Khobbi is equally good (their friendship is both offbeat and intriguing) and there's strong work from Man-Shik Jeong as Sang-hoon's boss and only friend. The film also has a rough edge to it that works well and Yang Ik-June makes strong use of some authentic-looking locations.

The Bad
Breathless delivers a powerful message about violence begetting violence (the film could easily be re-titled Domestic Abuse: The Movie) and the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons but it does rather overdo it, to the point where the relentless tide of beatings is genuinely sickening and difficult to watch. That said, it's also oddly compelling, because you're constantly wondering whether the film will somehow manage to redeem this deeply unpleasant character.

Aside from the horrific violence, the subtitled dialogue is so thick with obscenity that it quickly becomes tiresome, not least because there's no humour or imagination in it. In addition, the film is a good 30 minutes too long and feels too repetitive in the middle section, meaning that you may tire of Sang-hoon long before the softening starts.

Worth seeing?
Breathless is a difficult, frequently disturbing but ultimately powerful and well acted drama with a strong message about domestic violence.

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Content updated: 15/11/2018 17:05

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