The film follows an unnamed young girl who arrives in Europe to search for her boyfriend, for an, initially, unknown reason. Starting from Venice, however, he seems to have left the place she arrives each time, just a bit before she gets there. Furthermore, during her travels, and particularly when she is asleep, a masked man visits her, initially raping her and stealing all her things, but then changing his behaviour. As her interactions with him become more frequent, she seems to understand more of his role in her life.
Kim Ki-duk directs a very minimalist film, shot almost exclusively with a handheld camera, with a duration of 72 minutes, and featuring only two protagonists, one of which is himself. Furthermore, he did his own cinematography and editing. The camera, however, moves in rather frantic fashion as he follows the movement of the girl, occasionally ending up in a succession of dizzying shots, in an attempt to give a kind of a first person perspective in the film. Furthermore, the editing follows the same paths, repeating an abrupt succession of scenes. His purpose seems to be to give a sense of disorientation to the viewer, but his technique does not work so well.
The combination of the production values with the abstract and occasionally surrealistic narrative results in "Amen" looking like an extreme fairy tale, somewhere between a dream and a nightmare. This last aspect is presented through the exploitation elements featuring in the movie, although, this time, Kim is rather restrained in their depiction, to the point that they are more implied than presented on screen. The rape scene is a distinct sample of this tendency. Nevertheless, the scenes where the masked stranger appears are the ones that the cinematography and editing seem to work the best, along with the ones where the girl is performing some ballet routines in the fields, and some very beautiful images are presented.
Among all this confusion, Kim manages to built-up some tension, which finds a way out when the girl's reasons for searching her boyfriend are revealed. The fact that an important elements for this revelation takes place inside a church seems to symbolize that religion can provide answers and a solace, although the message is, again, abstract.
Kim Ki-duk was never much for words and "Amen" is not an exception. The masked man never utters a single word, while the girl's speaking comprises mostly of her yelling her boyfriend's name and asking in various houses if he is there. Kim Ye-na, however, provides a great performance, in naturalistic fashion, which benefits the most by both her acting style and her physique, and particularly her face.
"Amen" is a difficult film to watch, as Kim Ki-duk seems to be at his most experimental moments. Kim Ye-na, the extreme and exploitative mystery, and some beautiful images of Europe help a bit, but the movie remains one for the hardcore fans of the director.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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