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DVD Review: Breath (2007)

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Heavy on symbolism but frustratingly emotionally shallow, Kim Ki-Duk’s Breath feels mostly like window dressing hiding a vacant interior. Originally released in 2007, Breath wasn’t the crossover success the prolific director has achieved with films like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, and is just now getting a U.S. DVD release.

Park Ji-a stars as Yeon, a fragile housewife who’s reeling from the discovery of her husband’s (Ha Jung-woo) infidelity. Much to his chagrin, she finds herself fascinated with the news reports about prisoner Jin Jang (Chang Chen), a man on death row for murdering his wife and two children. Jin is in the news often, due to his frequent suicide attempts.

Yeon finds herself inexplicably drawn to him and goes from simply watching his plight unfold on TV to actually visiting him on a regular basis. A tentative romance blossoms, with Yeon making up for the short time they have by staging elaborate, season-themed musical numbers in the visiting room, thus giving them their own spring, summer, fall and winter in just a few short weeks.

Kim has an eye for striking composition, and each musical number acts as a fascinating standalone chamber piece, with the obvious artificiality of the decorations clashing with the increasingly real feelings of Yeon and Jin. But outside of these moments, the film feels very thin indeed.

Kim populates the rest of the 82 minutes with generic scenes of domestic turmoil between Yeon and her husband or turgid symbolism like Yeon’s angel sculpture, which she first crafts carefully and later shatters. None of this gives us much insight into the pain Yeon is experiencing or her newfound interest in a complete stranger, and the fairly one-note performance from Park doesn’t add much nuance.

Kim even tosses in a throwaway meta performance by himself as the controller of the prison security camera who tracks Yeon and Jin’s every move during their visits together. Other than reinforcing that yes, Kim is the one pulling the strings on this relationship, it doesn’t explicate the muddled central action at all.

Palisades Tartan brings Breath to DVD with an adequate, if slightly fuzzy, anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Extras include a making-of that consists of nearly 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes production footage, brief featurettes about the film’s press conference at Cannes and the stars’ appearance on the red carpet there, and interviews with Kim and Park. The disc also includes trailers for other Tartan releases.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.