OF ALL the South Korean directors who broke through into the international arena just over a decade ago, Kim Ki-duk was the most extreme – both in terms of the imagery he deployed in his films (the fishhook scene in The Isle still makes me wince) and his style of storytelling.
Arirang/Crocodile – Kim Ki-duk Double Bill
Terracotta Distribution, £tbc
His technique in early efforts such as 2001’s Bad Guy may have been raw and unpractised, but his prolific output quickly led him to produce more transcendent work, such as the masterful Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring (2003), and his strange, enigmatic love story 3-Iron (2004). Since 2008, however, he’s been living in a self-imposed exile after a suicide scene in his last feature, Dream, almost resulted in a tragic accident during production. His latest film Arirang – which, along with his little-seen debut Crocodile, makes up this welcome double-bill release – is his attempt to grapple with the implications of this near-fatal incident. An oddball hybrid of documentary and drama, it’s an arresting self-portrait in which Kim – living a hermit’s existence in a freezing mountain cabin where he’s been documenting his life on a single digital video camera – is subjected to probing questions by his harshest critic: himself. That may sound unbearably self-indulgent but what follows is actually a weirdly engrossing deconstruction of his creative process and a sly reminder of how brilliant he is at manipulating the tools of his trade to create a dramatic situation out of seemingly nothing at all. At one point, for instance, he films himself having a breakdown as he discusses how putting an actress in a position where she might have lost her life for the sake of making a film caused his current schism. Tears well up and it seems like the most startling, heartfelt confession an artist could make when suddenly confronted with the insignificance of his work in the grand scheme of things. But then it cuts to a scene of him watching this footage on his computer screen questioning why he’s crying. Suddenly the film because something else: an interrogation into all the ways life can be represented on film. It’s quietly provocative stuff and it makes watching the grim but haunting Crocodile (1996) a more fascinating experience, not least because that film’s preoccupation with suicide and the need to find light even in the darkest realms of human existence demonstrates that these have been issues with which Kim has long grappled.
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