REVIEW: Pieta (2012)

A vicious loan shark’s enforcer comes face to face with the mother who abandoned him when he was born. She begs for his forgiveness.

By Raymond Arcega
Last updated on


Original Title: 피에타
Year: 2012
Country: Korea
Language: Korean
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director: Kim Ki-duk

Director Kim Ki-duk is no unknown when it comes to powerful, and often controversial films. Some of films, like The Isle, were hard to watch. Many, like 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, were mesmerising. But it’s most certain that his stories will leave a strong impact after viewing. Pieta definitely serves Kim’s reputation justice.


Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a ruthless enforcer for a loan shark. If a client fails to repay cash on time, Kang-do makes due by crippling their bodies. Crushing bones and severing limbs are all within possibility of the punishments he will put unfortunate clients through.

One day, a strange woman (Jo Min-su) shows up at his doorstep and begs for forgiveness. She tells Kang-do that she is the mother who abandoned him when he was a baby. He refuses to accept her at first, but eventually his cold heart starts to melt. As Kang-do and his mother get closer, he starts to live his life in fear. He worries that one day one of the clients he has crippled will come back for revenge.

From the start it’s obvious that Kang-do is not meant to be a likable lead character. He is cold and cruel, showing no hint of mercy to anyone. Above all, he seems satisfied with his daily routines and life overall. So the intrusion by his mother sets off a shock to his soul, and we start to see a story of redemption taking place.


However, Pieta is no mere redemption story. Nor is it a mere drama. It’s actually a compelling revenge thriller, filled with numerous startling and unsettling scenes. The title of the film is a reference to the kind of Christian art that depicts the Virgin Mary cradling a dying Jesus Christ on her lap. The story reflects that imagery in some ways, but not in ways one would think.

There are many extreme scenes that show how far a mother will prove her love for her son. All of them involve sexual content, garnering controversy and invoking intense reactions in viewers. One such scene involves sexual violence, when Kang-do attacks his mother threatening to rape her by stating “I came out of here. Can I go back in?”. All the while, his mother cries without putting up a fight.


Another scene is when Kang-do, recovering from injuries, starts to masterbate by rubbing against a pillow. His mother witnesses this happening, but decides to help her son out by giving him a handjob.

Kang-do’s mother seems like the kind of desperate woman who will do anything to make ammends with her lost son. However, as the story goes on, we start to ask questions about her intentions. Is there really a mother who would endure such stress and put herself through so much? As we dive deeper and deeper, we learn that there must be some kind of hidden truth. When it reveals itself, watching everything unfold is a gripping experience.


Kim Ki-duk is amazing at creating enigmatic atmospheres and compelling stories. All his films make viewers sit down after completion, let the ending sink in, and make them question everything they have watched. Pieta is no exception.

Watch this film…

…if you are in the mood for a film that will grip you from the beginning, then shock you when you think everything is fine.

About the Author

Raymond Arcega


Follow Ray on Twitter and chat with a fellow cinema nut. He also tweets about tokusatsu, assorted geekery, and life and adventures in Japanland.