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Asian Directors: A look at Kim Ki-duk (Korea)

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Not many seems to know the background of Kim Ki-duk unless one moves frequently within the arthouse circuits and have taken to Kim’s penchant for stories delving in moral and ethical issues, at times with a spiritual touch.

As silent scenes are common in his films, he might have opened up his films to the international market (as mentioned on a fan’s website), incidentally or otherwise. This phenomenon is not uncommon since silent films have penetrated international markets easily in the past. Just think of Charlie Chaplin’s.

His latest work “Beautiful” (2008) (one of the few times where Kim happens to be the writer instead of being in the director’s chair) focuses on the stark contrast between the downside of feminine beauty which usually leads to unsolicited accosting and unwarranted harassment while living in a world of loneliness, and the punishing misery inflicted on females not blessed with the right figure or social demeanours.

While it is apparent that the film carries a few of Kim’s signature, it is undoubtedly his work, alongside the director’s – with the former’s strong analogies of societal misconceptions and the latter’s skilful use of visual imagery.

Kim Ki-duk’s films have a way of arousing the senses of the audience like few other films do. They can make an audience sit up straight and pay attention. What makes this unusual is the fact that – more often than not – the visual devices that he use hinge more on storytelling, stories that all if not most of us are able to relate to, yet with perspectives that many of us will find mesmerising and engaging. It is this mix between relatedness and peculiarity that makes Kim’s films so poignant and powerful.

Kim’s deft use of metaphoric representations of objects can also be considered to be legendary. While some of these metaphors are easy to comprehend, many are left to the individual audience’s interpretations of their precise meanings – with a few being rather ambiguous.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he was described as “a South Korean filmmaker noted for his idiosyncratic ‘arthouse’ cinematic work ”. Indeed, it’s this guessing game that keeps viewers engaged but it’s Kim’s stylistic development of the filmic narrative that often bedazzle his global audiences.

Some of his more notable works include “The Isle” (2000), “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter……and Spring” (2003), “Samaritan Girl” (2004), “3-iron” (2004), “Hwal” (2005) and  “Time” (2006). While he produces one to two films per year, he has recently (between 2008 and 2011) slowed down the production rate, probably to focus more on the films that he wants to produce.

He has also been shifting to producing documentary films and taking on more roles, such as being a screenwriter in “Dream” (2008) (he has primarily been a director and secondarily, a writer previously). These changes do probably imply that we will see a more multi-faceted Kim in the years to come, and a more enriching cinematic experience in the theatres when his films reach our shores.

To enjoy Kim Ki-duk’s movies, one merely has to go into the theatre with no expectations and just savour the ride. Nothing prepares one more than unpredictability itself. Refrain from reading the reviews of Kim’s films before watching them, keep an open mind and brace yourself for an interesting viewing experience.

And you just might walk out of the theatre more enlightened about life than you can ever imagine.

 

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