Anger, Pain Lie Directly in Their PathsFilmography of Kim Ki-duk
1997 Wildlife Reservation Zone
1998 Birdcage Inn
1999 The Isle
2000 Real Fiction
2001 Address Unknown
2001 Bad Guy
By Park Soo-mee
Perhaps "urgency" is the word that best describes the work by one of Korea's most volatile filmmakers, Kim Ki-duk. From a mute prostitute who attempts suicide by shoving fishhooks into her vagina in "Island," to a dog butcher meeting death from a troop of angry animals who escaped their cage in "Address Unknown," characters in Kim's films always stand on the verge of destruction. His use of imagery is intense and often violent, but it is also incredibly sensual, to the point it becomes disturbing.
"I see it on the bus on my way home every day," Kim said, sitting in the guest lounge of LJ Film. LJ produced his latest feature film, "Address Unknown," which is being presented at the Venice Film Festival. The festival runs from Tuesday through Sept. 8.
He was wearing a white, short-sleeved T-shirt, which he occasionally rolls up on shoulder during the interview, a pair of khaki-colored running pants and a baseball hat. "My military look," Kim joked. As he spoke, Kim pulled out a pen and a piece of paper from his pocket and made scribbles of words and drawings. Although he sometimes seemed distracted, he never showed any hesitation in choosing his words.
"There is a strange sense of anger between people," he said. Kim talked about two men he had seen on the bus that morning. They had bumped into each other's shoulders while getting off the bus. Kim said, "One guy shouted, 'I should beat you to death!' and the other guy yelled, 'Son of a bitch.' The thing is they couldn't even hear each other. It seemed as if they were almost swearing at themselves."
In "Address Unknown," Kim juxtaposes this 'invisible violence' with the tragic life of three teenagers who grew up near a U.S. army base right after the Korean War. In the film, there is Chang-guk, the main character who was born to a Korean barmaid and an African-American soldier; Eun-ok, who suffers from a cataract in her left eye and agrees to have sex with an American soldier in order to pay for eye surgery, and Ji-heum, a quiet, student-type who finds it rather difficult to cope with his army-veteran father.
The title of the film comes from Changuk's mother (played by Bang Eun-jin), who writes a series of letters to her husband in America with photographs of their son attached. She is desperate to give hope to her son that his father will soon take them to the States. Despite her attempts, all the letters are returned stamped "Address Unknown" across the envelope.
"The film is about the letters that could not be sent, the stories that are neglected and people who have lost their home," said Mr. Kim. "And it's a letter I am sending to America. If Sony Pictures rejects my film because they think it's anti-American, then it will be a real address unknown." The depictions of American soldiers as oppressors and Koreans as victims led some critics to question the anti-American messages in the film.
"Call me a chauvinist," he said before gulping down the rest of the pineapple juice. "But it's important to remind people how the Americans have colonized this land and our consciousness through things as trivial as food." Kim said that the film could also be read as "pro-American," because it looks at how Koreans have tacitly agreed to the way things are.
The film, however, failed gain much of an audience in Korea. "Address Unknown" opened in June at the start of the big movie season, but attracted only 10,000 viewers nationwide and was pulled from theaters after a week. Ironically, considering Kim's concerns about American hegemony, "Pearl Harbor," the Hollywood biggie, opened the same day as "Address Unknown" to an audience about 100 times larger than Kim's film. "We refuse to reflect on our painful history. Instead, we watch other countries' histories as a source of entertainment," he said.
Despite his political pessimism, there is also a sense of longing in Kim's films, a poetic sentiment that some criticize it as "romanticism," but which Kim does well. "I just found out yesterday that the tide and ebb are all part of one big wave," Kim said while describing his recent trip to the south of the province. By now, his scribbles covered the entire paper and the drawings overlapped the words. He said, "Filmmaking, to me, is an act of creation but it's also a sublime labor."
Filmography of Song Il-gon
1993 The Wall
1994 Ophelia Audition
1996 The Dreams of the Clowns
1998 Liver and Potato
1999 The Picnic
2001 Flower Island
By Chun Su-jin
It was 1998 when Korea was struck with the full force of the economic crisis. The news of an office worker who forced his wife and little son to die with him in a suicide mission after he was laid off attracted little attention among the public. But it did not go unnoticed by one young director, Song Il-gon. Song, then 28, made a short film out of the story, titled "The Picnic." It depicted a family who died after the father ran a hose from the exhaust gas pipe in the car and tried to kill everyone inside. Though it didn't gain notice in Korea, "The Picnic" received a Special Jury Award at the 52nd Cannes International Film Festival in 1999, and Mr. Song became the first Korean to receive an award at Cannes.
Song only recently made his very first full-length digital film, titled "Flower Island." He was invited to the Venice Film Festival, under the competition section "Cinema of the Present," and other festivals have followed. The young director said, "I was just lucky － what's 'in' at international film festivals is just a matter of taste. The only good thing about getting a prize is that I can use the money to fund a new project."
In an interview with The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition, he explained what attracted him to film. "At first, I was more interested in literature, such as Dostoevsky from my high school days. After seeing the film 'La Femme Publique' ('Public Woman') by Andrzej Zulawski, based on 'The Possessed' by Dostoevsky when I was 18, I asked myself, 'Can I make a film that can really shake the spirit of human beings, like Zulawski?'"
He then entered the Seoul Institute of the Arts to major in filmmaking, but graduated disappointed. "I felt that I did not learn even the alphabet of filmmaking. All I did was mimic what others did," he said. Though his short film "Ophelia Audition" won the top prize at the Seoul Short Film Festival, he was still not satisfied. Then he met Moon Seung-il, whose recent feature film "Nabi" ("Butterfly") won two awards at the Locarno International Film Festival. Moon gave him this tip: Go to Poland for further study. Without hesitation, he flew to the Polish National Film School.
"It was no joke," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Tuition fees were $7,000 a year and of course there was the language barrier. But it was so different from Korean film schools." His adventure in Poland was worth all the money and the effort. "From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning to the time I went to bed I thought only of making films." He made several short films in Poland, including "Liver and Potato," with a local cast and crew. As a contemporary take on Cain and Abel, his film told of a man who has to sell his dying brother's liver to get some potatoes for dinner.
Song's stories aren't completely devoid of happiness. In "The Picnic," the son makes a narrow escape from death. In "Liver and Potato," Abel's ghost turns up at the dinner table with a final smile in defiance of death.
"A film should be a cure for humanity, more than mere entertainment," he said.
Though the Korean film scene has been described as "booming," Song said he felt frustrated to be back in Korea. "I couldn't adapt to the Korean film scene, which has only developed commercially. A film should explore the art of storytelling." It took him some time to find a movie distribution agency to work with for his ambitious project, "Flower Island." To be released nationwide in Korea in late September, "Flower Island" tells the story of three women searching for various cures to their problems at a place known as Flower Island.
Song smiled and called his new feature film "a blockbuster for Korea's film market this fall." Becoming serious, he explained: "I'm still learning and my style will continue to change."
These days, the question that is haunting him is: why do we exist? "I have to admit that this is a rather solemn topic, but, you know, philosophy should not be something difficult."
by Park Soo-mee, Chun Su-jin