Arirang                                                                   Arirang Movie Poster

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, Arirang Winter Washingself-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

Arirang Kim Ki-duk Gives An Intense LookAt 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 blameKim Ki-duk is Armed and Dangerous 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.


5 thoughts on “Arirang

  1. You didn’t find 3-Iron rewarding?! I just lost all my respect for you ;-p I adore 3-Iron… but then I suppose I’m very much into “heavy-going”. Not such a fan of Spring, Summer… either, just didn’t move me all that much. Got mixed feelings about Arirang as well but I have to say I did see it when I was really, really tired (although I did see The Woodman and the Rain right after, and that lifted me up again).

    1. Ah, losing your respect was like losing a piece of my soul. I’ll aimlessly wander the streets at night gazing up at the moon. Although I don’t have a problem with ‘slow cinema’ I’d much rather watch a Sono film where I can thrash about amidst all sorts of ideas and chaos and fun. Very enjoyable.

      1. Ah! I did not mean to splinter your soul (somehow that makes me feel Voldemore-ish). 3-Iron is absolute perfection in my eyes. I haven’t watched enough Sono – only Himizu – but then I wouldn’t say I prefer Kim Ki-duk anyhow, just that I absolutely love one of his films (really, really want to see Dream though).

  2. Captain Banana

    I will get around to watching this, I must say I’ve watched a quite a few of his back catalogue but am only really a fan of two (3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring) if I had watched The Isle first (uncensored version) I would have likely never watched anything else by him and it stained my opinion of him permanently.

    1. The subject matter of The Isle put me off that film but I had no idea what 3-Iron and Spring, Summer were about so I went in with an open mind but they didn’t impress me enough to draw my attention away from other Korean directors.

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