Release Date: 08th June 2012 (UK Theatrical Release),
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Writer: Kim Ki-duk
Starring: Kim Ki-duk
Kim Ki-duk is a self-taught director with a fearsome reputation. Over the course of 15 films he has cultivated a bad guy persona by creating stories packed with raw emotions and tough situations delivered in a manner that seems brutal when placed next to his more stylish and reserved contemporaries. Characters will frequently be subjected to prostitution, violence, and some form of masochism or other. All the violence and pain finally caught up with him because when shooting suicide scene for his 2008 film, Dream, the lead actress nearly died (Kim saved her). This triggered an emotional breakdown which led to his self-imposed exile in the Korean countryside. Three years later, Arirang emerges.
My previous experiences with Kim Ki-duk have been unrewarding. Despite the visual beauty of 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring I found the emotional content heavy going. His world view has seemed to me to be very bleak. Arirang is another one of those films that shares that bleakness.
Life to me is sadism, self-torture and masochism
The documentary serves as a mirror, a psychiatrist, a friend, a drinking partner, and a critic. He uses the camera and the documentary form to vent his anger and loneliness.
Gone is the visual beauty of previous films as we get a low-budget, self-shot, self-documentary with no cast or crew, just himself, his location and his cat. In a wordless 10 minute opening we first meet Kim Ki-duk in a cabin in the wilderness of some remote Korean backwater which is freezing over with the coming of winter. Amidst it all is him performing his daily routines, using a chainsaw to cut wood, cooking with a wood-fired stove and collecting water. His cabin is under-heated so he lives in a tent… with a computer. He’s not totally isolated but there will be no human contact for the remainder of the film as he displays his emotional turmoil on screen.
If I sum up my life in a word, loneliness
At its most interesting we get personal insights which give clues as to why his catalogue is littered with so much bile, how his lonely school life and years working at junkyards and factories left him feeling like an outsider. He reveals why he values filmmaking and how he felt it offered him respect and happiness. Making 15 films, most of which are internationally available, is an achievement but since he started he admits he has been taking on too much work and confesses “I worked like a machine” and how working so much turned film-making from a source of happiness to a miserable experience. He tugs at our sympathy and we can see how the accident on the set of Dream was such a shock which led to a form of director’s block.
It starts to get a bit much when his self-pity turns into hatred and when he starts to blame others for his problems, the two assistant directors left him to pursue their own careers (how dare they!) which results in him seeking vengeance through violence. Silly as that is the film will startle you with a scenes of raw emotion such as when he sings Arirang in a drunken rage and watches his performance in Spring, Summer… Kim Ki-duk is really hurting.
Despite claims of directorial block the action is fluid, the camera is always placed in strategically useful points to observe him in the snowy landscape. At times I wondered if a second person was involved. There are many interesting touches ranging from talking directly to camera to undergoing an interview with his shadow cast against canvass of tent, the film cutting between them as it asks him tough questions.
The degree to which you respond to this film will depend upon how familiar or how much of a fan of the man’s works you are but it is fascinating getting insights into what informs his world view and has driven his movies. The emotions on screen are scary.