Since the revelation of his serene Buddhist parable Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring, Korean director Kim Ki-duk has been working toward a quiet, minimalist aesthetic that's more in sync with unvarnished nature than the clamor of the modern world. Though it lacks the humor and complexity of recent Kim efforts like 3-Iron and Time, his 2005 film The Bow benefits from a gratifying simplicity of form, unfolding more through long stares and ritualistic gestures than the few pages of expository dialogue that string it together. In fact, if the film has a flaw, it's that there's too much dialogue breaking up the spell cast by the lilting music and the slowly evolving relationship between a 16-year-old girl and the old seaman who has kept her adrift for 10 years. Credited as Girl and Old Man, the two never speak a word—the scant lines are given to the fishermen who charter their boat—but their feelings are expressed in silence, oscillating between tenderness and lechery.
As the film opens, it's only a couple months until the Girl (Han Yeo-reum) turns 17, at which time the Old Man (Jeon Sung-hwan) plans to marry her. In the meantime, he keeps her confined to his rickety fishing boat, leaving her only when he heads to shore on the barge to pick up supplies and fisherman. Whenever the fishermen ogle the striking young woman, the Old Man protects his charge by firing a warning arrow from his trusty bow. The Girl accepts his jealousy and possessiveness because she doesn't know any better, but all that changes when a handsome college student (Seo Ji-seok) comes aboard and presents her with a new set of options.
The 12th feature in Kim's prolific career, The Bow directly recalls his festival breakthrough The Isle, another tale of shifting power dynamics set in the isolation of the sea. Perhaps in keeping with his newfound Buddhist aesthetic, the new film isn't nearly as frank in its sexuality, nor does it linger on the obvious moral sticking points. In the end, this relationship is as removed from the norm as an anchored ship from shore, and Kim succeeds in creating a world all his own.
Key features: A brief making-of documentary joins the trailer and previews for other Tartan releases.