Kim Ki-duk 1960 – 2020

2nd February 2023

Another belated obituary, this time for the Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk.

One of the few Korean films I have seen at the cinema is his ‘Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring‘ from 2003, which tells the life of a Buddhist monk in a secluded temple.

The film uses long takes to convey the slow passage of time, while the scenic lake and mountains add to the tranquility despite worldly temptations and intrusions into the retreat.

His first international success was his fourth film, ‘The Isle‘ from 2000. Hee-jin is a mute who operates a floating resort where people can live alone. One day a man wanted by the police arrives, and hides out at the isle.

The two become close although, typically in art house movies, the ending is open; we see them floating away but have to decide for ourselves what their future holds.

3-Iron‘ was released in 2004, telling about the unconventional relationship between a housebreaker, Tae-suk, and an abused housewife, Sun-hwa.

The film can be taken literally, or interpreted in several ways. A popular theory is that Sun-hwa invents Tae-suk as a way of protecting herself from her violent husband. The fact that the two never exchange even one word during the film could support that view.

The beauty of such works, what distinguishes a work of art is the very fact that the viewer has to be personally involved, almost to be a co-writer. Any theory is valid provided it can be supported by evidence from within the film.

Kim Ki-duk won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Best Director with this film.

Kim ki-duk made over thirty films, but my favourite is 2004’s ‘Samaritan Girl‘ which was one of the first films I watched when I began to seriously explore Korean Cinema.

The subject is teenage prostitution, one girl acts as pimp, the other provides the service until they can save enough money for a trip to Europe. I shall not spoil the plot in case you want to see the film.

At the Berlin Film Festival, the film won the Silver Bear, the second-place award.

Kim Ki-duk’s films are controversial, not just for subject matter, sex and violence, but some films show animal cruelty, which brought him into conflict with various censor boards.

I didn’t know too much about Kim’s personal life until I began to look online after I heard about his passing.

I discovered that he had been accused of physical and sexual violence. From what I have read, Kim was charged and fined for physical violence against an actress, but due to lack of evidence, there were no further charges. More details can easily be accessed online.

One has to state that these are allegations, and I have no way of knowing the truth. Nevertheless, it is very disturbing and distressing. As such, I felt I couldn’t call this a tribute. Instead, I wanted to highlight some Korean films that I have enjoyed, challenging films from a controversial director.

Scene from ‘The Bow’ 2005

A website rating Kim Ki-duk’s films may be accessed here:

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3 thoughts on “Kim Ki-duk 1960 – 2020

  1. I think that in Kim Ki-duk’s films there is a clear will to create a compact and coherent universe full of recurrences and common places. If his first four films were a work in progress where the constants of his cinema –both stylistic and argumentative are being shaped– it will be from The Island onwards where his work finds its own personal space that will be developed in subsequent films, reaching the summit of his cinema with Iron-3. Thanks for remembering him, Paul. Greetings from Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

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