BREATHLESS DVD Review
Winner of over 13 much lauded awards at international film festivals. Sang-hoon (Yang Ik-june) is a lowlife gangster, a debt collector exercising thuggish ways to collect his money. The recipient of nothing but anger since his childhood, he expresses himself through violence. When he finally encounters someone who can stand up to him, feisty school-girl Yoon-hee (Kim Kkobbi, recipient of multiple Best Actress awards for this role) they become unlikely friends. Together, they try to change their lives, to escape the confines of society's periphery; change and escape never comes that easily though.Breathless is probably the most appropriately named film ever. The Korean title is Ddongpari, which mean, roughly translated, "shitfly", a creature that lives in and feeds on filth. This description of the main character Sang-hoon, played with astonishing confidence and dedication by director/writer Yang Ik-june, is perfect. However, it is the English title, which is far from a literal translation, that strikes me as most dead-on, because after only a few brief moments, that is how I felt, and I remained in a state of prolonged breathlessness throughout the film's runtime.
Yang created what may be the most self-assured debut feature I've ever seen. There are moments that took gigantic balls of steel to even consider putting on screen, and even those, or perhaps especially those, come off without hesitation. The harrowing nature of the perpetual violence that is Sang Hoon's life is mind-blowing, and yet even though he shows next to no emotion, we can feel his heart trying to shine through all of the shit in which he finds himself mired. Ultimately it takes the love of a young girl whose life is going off the rails to bring him to the realization that he doesn't have to be the monster he's become. Is it too late, though? Has Sang Hoon burned too many bridges and created a monster from which there is no escape? It's a tough call, but that's why these kinds of movies have to be made, because in real life, choices like that are always tough calls, and it is only the rare gem that can show that as well as Breathless does.
Through Breathless' festival run in 2009, the film won a couple dozen awards, including some very prestigious ones like the IFFR award, and numerous acting awards for Yang and his co-star, Kim Kkobi. Twitch first saw the film at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in 2009, where Ard had this to say:
"Breathless" is an impressive directing debut and a big advertisement for the acting skills of both Yang Ik-June and Kim Kkobbi. I'll be closely watching their careers.A few months later at NYAFF 2009, Dustin Chang had this to say:
The violence in Breathless is not stylized. It's grotesque. This is far from Park Chan-Wook film. We see unfettered brutality again and again that we get tired the ugliness of it all as Sang-Hoon does. And this is why the film works. By the time the emotionally charged climax rolls around, we are completely invested in this hard-to-love brut. Yang has more in common with Shane Meadows way of filmmaking than what its English title evokes. If you can stomach the violence, Breathless is a very rewarding film.And Charles Webb had these thoughts:
The performances by the leads are brittle and pained as their characters navigate bleak lives that seem to give no respite. The screenplay makes their circumstances over-the-top but the performances keep Sang-Hoon and Yoeon-Hue grounded and identifiable - it's easy to root for these characters precisely because the universe seems stacked against them and moreso because it's not too hard to imagine acting out as they do to survive.I must admit that my feelings for this film lean far more to the unqualified praise side than some of these reviews might suggest. Breathless is a brave and brutal example of what drama can be. The plot may be overly stylized a bit, but the visuals and the action are not, they are utilitarian, and if anything, the sparse visual style lends a documentary feel to the film that affects the viewer in a more visceral way I cannot recommend Breathless highly enough, just be prepared for a few good, old-fashioned gut punches along the way.
Breathless was first released on DVD in Korea in 2009. That disc was reviewed by Ard here. It was a solid release that lacked any English-friendly extras, but had a pristine visual presentation. The Korean disc has been out of print for a while, though, and recently Terracotta Distribution took up the mantle and released Breathless on English-friendly DVD. There are pros and cons to Terracotta's set. First, the cons: Breathless on UK DVD is a NTSC-PAL conversion, which means that it has some issues with ghosting. Some people aren't bothered by this and can't tell the difference, I am not one of those people. It isn't as bad as some other films, Tartan's Battle Royale DC DVD was an awful standards conversion. This one is mild in comparison, but it is an issue. Apart from that, the video is clean and clear, and the dialogue is easy to hear. The only issue I have with the presentation of the film itself is the ghosting issue. That being said, the next part of this review makes up for that deficiency completely in my eyes.
There is a great wealth of fascinating extra material on Terracotta's two disc set of Breathless. The extras commence with a long interview with director, Yang Ik-june. This interview is very enlightening. Yang is a director who knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. Though he'd never directed a feature before, he is very well-versed in theory and practice, and listening to him makes me feel confident that we have much to look forward to in his career. There is also a shorter interview with his co-star Kim Kkobi, this is more standard EPK fare, though. Then we get a behind-the-scenes featurette from the film's premiere at IFFR, this footage is shot by Yang and his crew, and you can see just how excited they are to present their film. Then there are a couple of interview segments from the film's London premiere, and a Q & A following a screening of the film with Yang and Kkobi. Finally there is some reaction footage following Breathless' special screening for the Korean film community, who are full of praise for the film and almost everyone remarks about how they'd love to work with Yang in the future. This is over an hour of in-depth bonus material that really helped enhance my appreciation of the film and the people who made it.
Terracotta Distribution have put out a comprehensive English friendly version of a film that matters. Breathless deserves a greater audience, and I think that this disc belongs in every collection. The issue of the standards conversion is disappointing, but the addition of so much awesome bonus material does take the sting out a little bit. I definitely recommend this set.
-Interview with director Yang Ik-june (20 minutes)
-Interview with actress Kim Kkobbi (10 minutes)
-Behind the scenes at the Rotterdam Film Festival (20 minutes)
-Special Korean Film Industry Preview Screening footage (10 minutes)
-London Korean Film Festival Q&A at the Barbican Centre
-London Press Junket footage
-Trailers (Korean theatrical, Korean teaser, three UK trailers, French trailer) -Stills gallery.