Oddly fascinating and watchable, Kim Ki-duk continues to push boundaries on his return to cinema…
During the production of his last movie Dream in 2008, Kim Ki-duk’s lead actress nearly died shooting a suicide scene. Shaken both emotionally and creatively, Kim withdrew from both filmmaking and the world, bringing an end to a nearly constant run releasing and creating films since his debut feature Crocodile in 1996.
Arirang, named after a well-know folk song often considered be an unofficial national anthem – which Kim himself gives us a hilariously excruciating rendition or two during the film – recounts that experience. Taking himself away in self-imposed exile, living in a cabin so cold he lives in a tent inside it.
It’s not, however, a ‘real’ documentary. Kim toys with the medium, right from the beginning telling us that the film could be documentary, drama or fantasy. He continually breaks the fourth wall; as Kim plays interviewer and interviewee, emotionally discussing his feelings and headspace, and how he realises that he needs to make a movie again to define himself. He then points out that this breakdown could just be him acting. Meanwhile we also see a third Kim watching and editing the film on a computer screen, then looking straight at the camera.
All of which sounds like it could be a bit pretentious and self-indulgent, and to a certain extent it is. Yet it’s also bizarrely watchable. However calculated Kim’s onscreen performance – and let’s be honest, this is very much how Kim wants us to perceive him – it’s also a revealing look into the mind of one of Korea’s most celebrated directors. Even if this director seems to be a dab hand with machinery, creating himself an espresso machine (and later, more bizarrely, a hand-built gun)… It seems one thing didn’t want to leave behind was a good coffee, and that I can truly appreciate!
The soundtrack crackles with the almost otherworldly noise of the cabin’s wood-fuelled heater throughout, even when Kim leaves the cabin behind.
Kim’s experience of having his confidence knocked sideways by the events will definitely strike a chord with anyone vaguely involved with the arts, since everything we do is so, well, subjective. How can you really tell if you are talented? How do you quantify the importance of a film, when doctors actually save lives?
Through the film, Kim discusses and excises his demons. The rawest and perhaps most candid comment about his perceived betrayal by Secret Reunion and The Front Line director Jang Hun, who worked as an assistant director on The Bow and filmed Kim’s script for Rough Cut.
Despite much talk about awards and not getting them, Kim’s film walked off with the Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It is, of course, just the sort of self-conscious film about filmmaking that a jury of, well, filmmakers and critics would love. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s as much about the artifice of filmmaking, even documentaries, as it is the truth Kim’s predicament.
A fascinating insight into the mind of a director. And as someone who’s (shamefully) not seen enough Kim Ki-duk films, you don’t have to be that familiar with his work to enjoy it.
Welcome back Kim Ki-duk!
Arirang is released on Monday 12 November as a double bill with Kim Ki-duk’s debut Crocodile by Terracotta Distribution.
Originally published 10 June, 2012.
Home media details
Edition: 2-DVD with Crocodile (2012)
Great to see a release of this film, backed with the first UK release of Kim Ki-Duk's Crocodile. Minimal extras, only a trailer and generic Terracotta Festival introductions, with trailers of other films.