This paper begins by discussing the recurrence of silent characters throughout the films of Kim Ki-duk. Hee-jin, who works as a clerk in a fishing resort in The Isle (2000); Han-ki, the violent pimp in Bad Guy (2001); and a young girl and old man, married to each other by the end of The Bow (2005): such non-speaking figures recall the acting of cinema’s silent period, whereby emotions and affect are conveyed through facial expression alone. For characters who do not or cannot talk, it is the face that emerges as the expressive surface that “speaks,” externalizing internal emotions and articulating affect. The paper follows readings from Gilles Deleuze on Béla Balázs in Cinema 1 (1983), where the former explains how the face in cinema takes the image beyond space and time, toward what he calls “any-space-whatever.” It is this beyond, which cannot be represented but only thought, that becomes the “grounding” for a potential ethics. This is not an ethics that is codified beforehand, functioning as a set of rules to regulate good and bad behavior; instead, it is the possibility for making an ethical choice in itself that somehow forecloses the tyranny of the moral law.
The paper then attempts to clarify and move beyond these writers through a close reading of a number of key scenes from 3-Iron (2004). It shows how the main protagonists of the film, Sun-hwa and Tae-suk, act in ways that do not conform to correct moral behavior: indeed, it is the very violence of the paternal law (her husband batters her repeatedly) they resist throughout the film. As such, they choose to go outside the moral status quo and thus create their own ethical standards, standards which are not predetermined, non-teleological, and by definition operate outside the law. In 3-Iron, this ethics is exemplified in their hospitality, of the arrival of the other within one’s own space, and Tae-guk’s arrival to uninhabited homes (where he cleans and organizes).