Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 18
  • Drama, World Cinema
  • 2013
  • 104 mins




A merciless, sadistic debt collector (Lee Jung-jin)'s life changes when a woman claiming to be his mother (Cho Min-soo) enters his life in Kim Ki-duk's unsettling thriller.


Given that Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk’s eighteenth feature is a film with serious parental issues and a whiff of revenge thriller, it’s natural to assume that Pietà has the potential to be this decade’s Oldboy. Combine that enticing subject matter with the film’s bagging of the top prize at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, and expectations could hardly be higher. So while Pietà is undoubtedly intriguing, it's surprising – and a little disappointing - to find that it seems more interested in wilfully alienating its audience than in giving it anything meaningful to chew on.

Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a 30-year-old loan enforcer who relishes violently crippling clients unable to pay the extortionate interest his employer charges. Out of the blue, Min-sun (Cho Min-soo) appears to Kang-do, explaining that she is the mother who abandoned him at birth and wishes to make amends. To describe their relationship as unorthodox is like describing the core of the sun as 'toastie': Kang-do's methods of testing Min-sun's truthfulness are horrific, yet she takes them in her stride, while Min-sun gladly offers Kang-do a helping hand in a situation where a man's mother is usually the last thing on his mind.

Kang-do is a deeply unpleasant creation: his barely concealed glee at torturing innocent people immediately marks him out as a wrong 'un, but Kim fills a large part of his film with repeated violent visits to hard-up clients to hammer (and drill) the message home. He even shows us Kang-do masturbating in his sleep: apparently a clear sign that he’s a deeply disturbed psycho. Hopes that he might, therefore, reveal interesting layers to his character at some point are dashed when it appears that he's like that simply because he was an abandoned baby. Likewise, the sea change his personality undergoes after the appearance of Min-sun is hard to swallow, and he becomes little more than a conduit for Kim to enact controversy-baiting acts which do little to further the plot or deepen the character.

When the truth about the relationship between Kang-do and Min-sun becomes clear it's a welcome (though not particularly inspired) twist in an otherwise pedestrian drama, but as Pietà's bizarre mother/son dynamic enters familiar territory it becomes, ironically, more entertaining but less interesting. Flashes of delicious black comedy alleviate the brutality, but unavoidable comparisons to Bong Joon-ho's Mother (2010) and Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy reveal that Pietà isn't as nuanced or intelligent as either.

Cast & Connections

  • Director: Ki-Duk Kim
  • Screen Writer: Ki-Duk Kim

In a nutshell

Dark and twisted but without the depth to back it up, Pietà is determined to provoke controversy at the expense of characterisation. It's not without merit, but it's an uncomfortable watch as likely to offend as entertain.

by Neil Alcock

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4

    Thunder Island

    Thriller. A hit man (Gene Nelson) is hired to kill a former Caribbean dictator. He abducts a couple and their boat to reach the despot's island, but then his plans go badly wrong.

    On Film4: 6 Oct 11:00AM

  • Film4

    The Enchanted Forest

    An old man raises a young boy who became lost in the woods, teaching him about life and nature

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF: five favourites

    Elena Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film festival on her five favourites of the fest. The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos' success in realising the usually disastrous combination of farci

  • Channel 4 Blog

    TIFF: five favourites

    Manuela Lazic reports from the Toronto International Film Festival on five favourites from the fest. The Witch What if the sorceresses and deadly spells in which people believed so fervently in th

Register with

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Tweets @Film4

  • Up next at 2.35pm, Jack Lemmon & Ricky Nelson are boarding The Wackiest Ship In The Army.

  • First play alert! On Weds 14th, Dwayne Johnson is out for vengeance in Faster:

  • World cinema fans! We're screening Oliver Assayas's French drama Something In The Air tomorrow night in the late slot

  • At 12.35pm, we're showing 40s western The Man From Colorado. Love this dramatic Swedish poster (and alt. title!).

  • @doppleganger69 Ah, shame!

On Film4