Of the limited number of Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk's movies, I have only seen a handful of them, and mostly they are the relatively contemporary movies, like The Bow, 3-Iron and Time. The feeling I got from them all is consistent - that it's not your usual storytelling, as he seemed more often than not to obscure any intended message, or meaning in his tales, much like searching for an Easter Egg, or worse, that needle in the haystack to get something out of it. If I can summarize his movies in a statement, then it'll be to expect something that's totally unexpected, though not necessary always in a good way.
The main draw here for his 14th film, Breath, is Taiwanese actor Chang Chen. I was curious how Kim would be directing him in one of his movies, and as it turned out, because of the obvious language barrier, it's a convenient cop out to have his death row inmate Jang Jin (even his character's name bears semblance to his own) made a suicide manic, choosing to maim his voicebox so that there isn't a necessity to speak at all. Why he's in jail we're not sure, and in true Kim Ki-duk style, his inmate buddies who share the same cell, are not your ordinary gangster looking characters with big tattoos. While two of them are quite bland, there's an effeminate inmate who has a liking for Jang Jin, but gets time and again brushed aside when he demonstrates and emotes jealousy.
Housewife Yeon (played by Park Ji-ah) discovers that her husband is cheating on her, and given the media attention on Jang Jin and his suicide attempts incessantly hitting the news, she decides to get back at her husband by striking a relationship with him, posing as an ex-girlfriend, and finding therapy in Uncle Jang. But before you say "boring", what made her character a little bit impossible to believe is the lengths she'll go to just to spice up the visitor's session according to seasons, and of course, add some colour, life and song to a meandering dull movie. She does impossible feats of wallpapering, which I thought would be more credible it they weren't so well done.
For half the movie, we see a one way street between Yeon and Jang Jin, she finding an outlet to vent her frustrations, while he finding it amusing to have a total stranger bring forth some fresh air, though artificial, injected into his imprisoned four walls. While there are of course issues of morality here that could be made for points of discussion, by the time the ending rolls around, these are indeed tossed out the window in double quick time. I suspect that 90% of the 10 members of the audience were here because of the tantalizing poster of Chang Chen's mouth on boob (the film has an M18 rating by the way), and it's not rocket science that the ah-peks were probably here for only one thing.
But alas, that, it doesn't deliver, but what it does cement very surely, is that you'll never know what to expect from a Kim Ki-duk film, who becomes his own voyuer as he spies on the duo from the CCTV Cameras fed back to the confines of his security office. Unfortunately, Breath turns out to be a time waster, and you'll find yourself cheering at any moment that could have possibly breathed life into a dull movie. Perhaps art movie lovers out there could find some meaning if they look hard enough, but here, I'm calling out that the Emperor is naked.