Way overlong at 130 minutes, and centered on characters who are almost all unsympathetic, “Breathless” still reps a head-turning debut by South Korean thesp Yang Ik-june as producer, director, writer and even star. One of the few films to attract attention in the Pusan fest’s Vision strand, this drama centered on a brutal loan-shark enforcer should bounce around the fest circuit but would benefit from a half-hour of cuts to its gutter-dialogued, often unpleasantly violent story, especially in the first half.
Yang plays the dour Kim Sang-hun, chief muscle for Man-shik (Jeong Man-shik), with whom he has a long, combative working relationship. First hour focuses at unnecessary length on Kim beating up people; story proper develops when he’s befriended by a high school girl, Han Yeon-heui (Kim Gol-bi), whose no-good brother, Yeong-jae (Lee Hwan), starts working for Man-shik’s gang. Entirely thanks to the two thesps — especially the young Kim, in the most difficult role — their scenes develop a real emotional undertow as Kim begins his painful journey to possible redemption. Shot with handheld cameras, often in extreme closeup, pic literally rubs viewers’ noses in its unedifying universe.