Swinging the "3-Iron" of Your Life

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, May 26, 2005

www.3ironmovie.com (available on dvd)

Singapore -- Winner of the 2004 Leone d'Argento Special Award for Best Direction and the Fipresci Award for Best Film in Competition, "3-Iron" is an utterly original piece of film art. An almost totally "silent" movie, it has no spoken dialogue between the protagonists, yet its universal message on the "existential aloneness" of the human condition speaks volumes. It truly relies on the skills of acting, exemplifying the power of body language, of how it is often enough to commmunicate the essential. There is a soundtrack though, and no, this isn't a classic black and white movie - it cuts a brand new postmodern genre of its own. No film-lover should miss this work of creative genius.

A young man, who lives an ethereal existence, floats from place to place like a wandering spirit. He sneaks into houses to occupy them in their owners' absence, using their facilities, making himself thoroughly at home. He is not ungrateful though - he fixes whatever he can and does some housework to make up for it. A ghost - who flits discreetly in and out of houses, haunting each for a while, somewhat like a "harmless" parasite which hurts yet heals. Is there karmic neutralisation by acts of random "illegal entry" and kindness done? Seriously, no. Just imagine the trauma of coming home to a puzzlingly tidied house with missing food! Very disturbing indeed! He encounters a lonely battered housewife, and together, they drift aimlessly from house to house, exploring and relishing the moments together. Every door picked open reveals a new world, as they imagine how their owners live. Without fixed identities, they "assume" others' identities for a while, before taking on new ones.

Living a secret life of quiet desperation unseen by others, they become somewhat invisible and transparent to the larger world out there. Even the woman was denied of her rights as a thinking and feeling person by her husband, treated merely as a trophy of marriage and a sex-object. The young man and woman form an accidental couple who brave escapades from reality. They are like "hungry ghost lovers", who yearn for a vague undefinable sense of fulfilment from each other's company, craving for the unspoken, which the other might not be able to truly offer in the first place - security, happiness, and a worthy goal in life. Is falling in love the ultimate purpose of life? Yes to some. But can love serve a higher purpose other than satisfying two people?
The film title refers to the 3-Iron club the young man uses for golf practice. It symbolises his strength and drive - it is that which he uses to create true "weight" and "substantiality" in his life, using it to right unbearable wrongs - by swinging golf balls at "evil-doers", such as the woman's abusive husband, so as to punish them. Given the situations he were in, whether he was right or wrong in doing so is arguable. Other than this "heaviness" of occasional violence, his life is one of muchly bearable "lightness", largely "floating", unrooted in purpose, action and consequences. His uniquely colourless yet colourful life forces the audience to wonder why they are not taking calculated risks like him to live a more adventurous, if not more dangerous life, yet at the same time to ask if there is a need to.

Even by the end of the film, we do not know why the educated and able young man chose his bizarre lifestyle. Was he just bored with life, or deeply troubled? Does he have a silent existential crisis? Should he not be having one? Should we not be having one? Was he existentially-alienated by the world or is he alienating it to face himself? The 3-Iron is the least used club in any golfer's bag, like a forgotten person in an empty house. Who is he really? Is he anyone in particular, or shape-shifting as much as he goes house-shifting? Is this not the truth of Anatta, the lack of substantility of self and identity?

Ultimately, "3-Iron" is a curious portrait of an alternative way of life, of questioning why we too, drift in our lives sometimes - with no clear permanent spiritual home, with no clear destination or purpose. Is this a meaningless or meaningful film? It is only as meaningful as your questioning of what is your "3-Iron" in your life. What do you use on the driving range of life? What drives you? The powerful "3-Iron" of mine is the "3-Jewels" (The Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha). More powerful than any iron, it's "3-Vajra"!  ("Vajra" means "indestructible", which describes the Truth.)