Breathless (2008) by Yang Ik-june

A world of violent people whose lives are all interconnected with each other.


In the opening scene itself, debutant director Yang Ik-june warns "Breathless" is not for the faint hearted. A woman is seen being continually hit by a man in the middle of a road, however, he is struck down, by another man who goes over to spit and hit the same woman for taking the beating without resisting. The scene abruptly ends when the second man is knocked out from behind. When the first man is struck down, we see a hero in the second man only to be proven wrong by his subsequent actions, moreover the scene ends by establishing the brutality of the world the viewers are going to enter.


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The second man in the scene is Sang-hoon, a foul-mouthed and violent debt collector working for his only friend Man-shik, a loan shark. Sang-hoon spends his days beating up and cursing people, intimidating them for money. While walking down a street, he spits on a high school girl Han Yeon-hee who demands an apology from him, which ends up with her being knocked out. This leads to a sort of relationship between these two, where both of them verbally abusing each other that also acts as their bonding.



Sang-hoon's relationship with his young nephew and sister also grows in a positive way. But the childhood trauma due to his abusive father, who killed his young sister and became a reason for the death of his mother, always push him into more violent places. His father's release from prison makes things more frustrating for him even though the latter seems to be a much calmer man now. At the same time, Han Yeon-hee lives a life with her insane father and a violent brother who seems to be taking the same path as Sang-hoon. Even though things are not so bright to begin with, everything goes further down the dark path.

Yang Ik-June does a spectacular job writing, directing and starring as Sang-hoon in "Breathless". The almost pessimistic approach of the film is more complimented by its original Korean title "Ddongpari," which literally means "Shitfly." The film is said to be semi-autobiographical with inspirations for the story coming from the abusive childhood of the director. He even had to sell his house for the completion of this film, which shows how important this film was for him. 



The circle of violence started by domestic violence is the prominent focus of the film with nearly all of the characters going through such violence. Sang-hoon's abuse during his childhood leads him to be abusive to anyone and everyone, including the violence towards his father at the end. Han Yeon-hee's abusive household, which makes herself abusive and her brother who seeks more violent measures. The domestic abuse Sang-hoon's sister has gone through in her marriage, etc, points to the evil that can be brought out from such acts.

The portrayal of raw violence in the film is so authentic and shocking that even while showing glimmers of hope the viewers are left with a pessimistic outlook towards the film. Almost in every single scene, there is some kind of use of cursing. The obscene language along with the violent and bloody nature of the film makes it a film that won't be suitable for every kind of audience. 

Kim Kkot-bi has done a wonderful job as, the cute and caring albeit the cursing and depressed Yeon-hee. Both Yang Ik-june and Kim Kkot-bi performing together on screen was a real treat. Lee Hwan as Yong-jae, Yeon-hee's brother did an impressive job being a confused and violent teenager. Most of the cast did a really good job retaining the realistic feel of the film.


The minimal use of music helps keep a raw and realistic vibe throughout the film; however, the use of music composed by Park Ji-woong was very effective. Yun Jong-ho's cinematography gives this a grounded feeling with the plain look given to the film which accentuates the realism and brutality of 'Breathless'.

Yang Ik-june's world of these violent people whose lives are interconnected is an ever existing world all around us that most people choose to ignore. This hard hitting tale of loss and regret does show some silver linings at the end, but only with a price. It's learning from the mistakes of the past generations while leading the life with a positive mindset, accepting the evil in the world that anyone can do anymore. "Breathless" is powerful enough to haunt you with its brutality. 



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Asian Film Vault: Breathless (2008) by Yang Ik-june
Breathless (2008) by Yang Ik-june
A world of violent people whose lives are all interconnected with each other.
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