Kim Ki-duk, the man.
1st South Korean director on winning Golden Lion in Venice.
Kim Ki-duk have been one of the most acclaimed directors from South Korea in the past two decades, as well as the most controversial. He've won more than 30 awards around the world, but yet in his homeland, South Korea, a nation which was untruthfully blessed by the American dream, nobody really accepts him. His speech does focus on the most annoying and taboo aspects of its society, and that have triggered a wave of contempt agains his work. Prostitution, half-race children, US semi-colonisation, erased culture and "westernisation" are constant issues in all his movies; from the dream of two teenagers desiring unforgettable holidays in Europe, to the lady who desperately wants to change her face, all his work have applied for the lost of identity of Koreans, and in most of cases, whit his -well condemn by its society- "extremism" and "non-delicacy" at the time of shooting. Which to me opens a pretty interesting debate; do filmmakers have to be "delicate"? if yes, since when?. Since Eisenstein taking us right in the epicentre of a war zone? ; since Bergman making us stare at a chess match with the death? ; since Hitchcock making us know how morbid we're for other's stories?. I don't know, seems to me, filmmaking have never been delicate, filmmaking it's actually the opposite to delicacy.
His movies are surrounded by characters which are blindly responsable with their destiny until the last consequences. Characters that accept and surrender to what their lives have pushed them to... "there's no middle points", in Ki-duk's own words. Such pattern mixed with Buddhist lessons, symbolism on mythological ancient Korea, lots of dosis of sadism, and magnificent shots (he kept painting with the camera), make his films highly attractive for a western eye, because in a society highly distracted by iPhone and videoclips with ‘perfect’ people, this is contradictory, and we won't really know how much good Ki-duk did on portraying the Korea that doesn't want to be told (or heard). He, the one who have actually contributed directly with his homeland as a metaphoric soldier.
Yet pretty distant with mainstream medias, Ki-duk accepted an invitation to “Strong Heart”, a popular Tv show among national and international teenager K-pop fans. He was seated among the most popular country's youth, I can bet he wasn't even recognised from the audience on the studio. In there he was directly criticised for the way he dressed in Cannes when he received the Golden Lion, and the way he actually dressed that day for the show. The explicit content (pornography, violence, bad words, bad shoes, bad pants) in its movies was also -of course- topic of discussion.
On the right, Kim Ki-duk in the Tv Show "Strong Hearth"; first main appearance in Korean Television.
The first time I knew about South Korea was through the self-denominated ‘K-pop’, and probably nowadays that's pretty much the only unfortunate way to firstly get interested in such a country. There they display a highly develop country in terms of music and videoclip industry; Koreans spend billions in its singers, making envidiable audiovisual works to the world. Under this image, we recognised a fantastic South Korea, a dreamland, a festival of good image, not letting space to criticism or a vision of nation out of the context of popular music. At the end of the day (sorry to wake you up, but the world is politics) this have been the most effective way to win the war against North Korea in the imaginary of the world; K- pop have been a useful and powerful tool, not only to South Korea, but to U.S., which have been trying to satanise North Korea around the world. Every time the North "attacks", now we have a whole "K-pop army" appealing for human rights, driven by medias, demanding rights they don't even know South Korean doesn't -also- have. Those who loves K-pop have been letting growth an industry which doesn’t care much about what’s going on in the country, in terms of politics, human rights, health care... aspects in which Korean society is so low developed, and that Ki-duk insist in portraying. There’s no space for individualism in the musical industry of South Korea, nobody is looking into folklore, native Korean instruments or forms of music.
"The isle", 2000. Ki-duk's beautiful shots (paintings?)
Some other directos from this land, like Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho, have achieved a pretty good balance between the 'unspeakable' Korean aspects and pure (Film-mericanist) entertainment. CJ Entertainment, one of the biggest production companies in South Korea, have spend billions in Chan-wook’s movies because he’s a successful box-office director. He has achieved to talk about certain things about Korean society with enough astuteness that people just pay attention to the impressionism of his movies from all the budget he spend in special effects, being delicate even in the way he expose the bloody and visceral Korea; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a magnificent work which showcase those who doesn't live the American dream in Seoul. Bong Joon-ho has also achieved this, his most acclaimed movie in European festivals Memories of murdered was in fact a pretty ironic opera to the useless security system of the country, people got involved with a first read, and was captured by its cruelty, but yet his most successful work in South Korea is no less than The Host, which is about a giant monster living in the Han river (the river that pass trough Seoul city), demonstrating that some directors known well their audiences, and how they can remain intact in South Korean industry, offering entertainment and yet trascendental criticism. The one who haven’t learnt this lesson, because he really doesn’t want to, is Kim Ki-duk. "I think I'm a different element from those directors" he says, "If they are like wood or metal, I'm more like soil".
Final scene for Crocodile, 1998.
Ki-duk doesn’t touch his hearth at the time of producing a film. In his entire filmography, 20 movies after 19 -almost- consecutive years filming since 1996, haven’t had any happy ending, or characters who release their demons; they all are trap -and they will always be-, in what their society has pushed them to (any resemblance to -his- reality is mere coincidence). There’s no humor, not a bit, there’s no beautiful shoots of Seoul, or symptoms of a highly develop society that K-pop loves to showcase. Kim Ki-duk instead loves to shoot places that are dying among the city, those which will soon be erased and replace by new buildings and capitalism; he loves rural areas, poverty, dirtiness. His first movie, Crocodile, touched -not that closely- one of the most difficult aspects of South Korean society; the suicides. Being one of the countries with highest suicide rate in the world, millions of Koreans suicide every year, pushed by debts, unemployment, study failures, evidencing a society that doesn’t care much about those who can’t handled the pressure they live in. The movie shows the story of a group of homeless living by the Han river who dedicated their lives to take wallets and bags from the people that jumps every week from the bridge; the fortune of few, result of the misfortune of many. Crocodiles by the river, starving for capital hunting wallets.
Kim Ki-duk was born in poor economic conditions, and this can guide us trough his movies and his reluctant position on special effects, a leftover ornament of the actual industry. He moved to Seoul at 9 years old and studied to be a farmer. He abandoned this path and served as a soldier to the country until the age of 25. After that, he dedicated himself to paint, and lived for years in a Buddhist temple, getting barely profit from its paintings. He started writing scripts and participating in contests, achieving certain respect inside the world of script writers, fact that consequently made him move to France, place where had the opportunity of studying fine arts. His first time ever in a cinema was actually in Paris; when he watched The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme) and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (Leos Carax), he suddenly decided he wouldn't paint anymore. He took off in the Busan International Film Festival, and his movie travelled the world, was acclaimed in Venice, Berlin, Spain, all the primarily film festivals around Europe. Since Crocodile, his first movie as director after successful scripts, he didn’t stop doing movies, one per year to be precise, even in cases, up to tree. He never truly learnt how to make a film, but he was capable of placing his ideas in a universal context, so universal that even his own country couldn’t let him show his movies without censorship, all of them were obligated to re-edit or cut entire sequences. Ki-duk's keeps the sentiment of what was lost after 30 years of Japanese occupation and the cold war in 1945. Korea lost variate cultural heritage, from temples to languages, and he's obsessed by bringing to the screen a bit of what was kept in Korea after such a cultural deforestation.
Kim Ki-duk, some years younger than now.
“There was a period when art flourished, now it’s only entertainment. Someday people will get tired of recreation and will start questioning the frivolity of the world, then the history will be back with questions and reflection”
Ki-duk’s words in a 2009 interview.
I find Kim Ki-duk one of the most interesting directors I have watched in my -yet short- life. He have done visible the invisible about his society, being almost the only voice who have stand out without delicacy, either because he don’t know how to be delicate or by decision, it is memorable. His speech might be about South Korea, but it’s mainly about how capitalism have invaded our lives and how we’re unhappier every day having everything, how we can’t achieve the freedom the politicians and world organisations have told us we have. Ki-duk is an idealist, sometimes pretty genuine and genius in the ways he express his ideas trough the camera, and yet extremist, even for its fans (I raise my hand). Many in western society hate him too, seems to them "repetitive, boring, unbearable", it's not all roses, but those doesn’t understand what he’s saying about his society, and these are people who believed (as its Koreans betrayers) that the world is already what it is, and we cannot change it... for them the point in his movies are useless.
“I think life is self-torture, sadism and masochism, that’s why I make movies, I want to highlight this, that white and black are the same color, 8 convert to 4, 4 to 2, 2 to 1, I mean, I’m the 8. That’s life.” ... “Life is so insignificant. From the point of view of history, a human life is an infinitesimal part, something insignificant, that is our lives!... we are as happy as if we had the whole world, I'm not saying it's wrong to express happiness as if the world was ours, but it have never been completely our, that would not even be possible, the happiness it gives us to finish a degree or to win a big prize money, to achieve positions in order to gain power, or receive a prize of honor, those are just games for children...”
Ki-duk’s words in “Arirang”, a documentary movie he did about himself.
Some Ki-duk's shots.
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER AND SPRING.