Kim Ki-duk

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. A family is involved in a minor fender bender and proceed to snap some pics of the accident, but South Korean soldiers arrive in an attempt to confiscate their cameras. No photos are allowed this close to the border between South and North Korea, but the matriarch of the family stands firm asking the soldier incredulously, “What, do you think we’re spies?” Of course they are North Korean spies, passing themselves off as an entire family of four, and they’ve been living and working in the South for years. But while they’ve committed murder and other deeds in the name of the Great Leader back home the pressures of being away from their own families as well as being immersed in a more free and open society are beginning to take a toll. When news from the North triggers the team to take an unsanctioned action they find themselves on the wrong side of their vicious handlers and facing the end of not only their mission but also of their lives. Think of Red Family as a season of “The Americans” condensed into a 100 minutes, and you’ll have an idea of the genre dynamics and subjects at play here. The balance between honoring and respecting their homeland while facing constant exposure to a place that goes against everything they ever knew leads to temptations, behaviors and decisions that Kim Jong-un would most definitely […]

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ff moebius

Silence is golden, unless you’re Kim Ki-duk. For Kim it is just another void to stuff to its breaking point with all things emotionally jarring. Outside of natural ambiance and some sparse music, Moebius is devoid of any audible dialog. Instead it relies on the power of performances and the intensity of a wickedly sharp and revolting story. This time around the South Korean director sets his sights on family dysfunction, and make no bones about it, he has a killer eye and won’t blink. Moebius‘ vulture like focus hovers around a family already stretched to its tensile limit. Mom drinks, Dad dabbles in less than secret infidelity, and their son (Seo Young-joo) is a meek, silent witness to their ensuing battles. When mom’s jealously boils over, the knives literally come out, inflicting visceral and devastating wounds to the ones she loves. Unable to cope with the maelstrom she removes herself from the turmoil, leaving the fragments of her family to sift through the ruins to salvage what they can.

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Pieta is an unnerving film. It makes you cringe with disgust, it disarms you with moments of tenderness, and it frequently veers into the unexpected. Directed by Kim Ki-Duk (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring, 3-Iron), the film takes place in the slum of Cheonggyecheon, an indigent part of Seoul that used to be a thriving factory town, but is now slowly being torn down in favor of erecting financial buildings. When the few surviving factory workers owe money, they fall victim to a vicious loan shark who himself finds his own challenges in the form of his long-lost mother. While Pieta might take some time to start engaging its audience, it succeeds in creating a palpable sense of unease throughout and running the emotional gamut with its two leads. The loan shark is Gang-do (Lee Jung-jin), a seemingly emotionless man who brutally goes from debtor to debtor and injures them so that he can get repaid through their insurance money. These injuries range from amputations to leg breaking and usually take place with the factory workers’ own equipment. He cripples the men in front of their wives and mothers, causing additional emotional duress. Given the fact that the factory workers earn their livelihood from being physically capable to use their machinery, Gang-do’s handiwork also forces the now-cripples to lose everything and not be able to provide for their families.

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Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a collector for a loan shark. He cripples his non-paying clients in order to collect the insurance money. One day a woman, played by Cho Min-soo, appears claiming to be his mother who abandoned him as a child. This discovery leads Kang-do down a path which includes reconsidering his line of work and his viewpoint on life in general. Kim Ki-duk‘s Pieta plays wonderfully into an ever-growing subgenre of South-Korean revenge films (including I Saw the Devil, Oldboy and The Man From Nowhere). Here we’re able to enjoy a very slow burning plot as it’s broken into two separate sections. The first being where Kang-do is the collector who breaks limbs to reconcile debts, the next being where he’s a love drowned character, adoring his mother in an almost childlike state. As the film turns to that second half the reveal leads to interesting ideas of what one will do both for revenge and for love. We see characters endure in the face of despair as Kang-do’s mother goes missing and he goes hunting, believing this to be the work of one of his crippled former clients.

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Foreign Objects - Large

South Korean writer/director Kim Ki-duk has been a critically acclaimed filmmaker for almost as long as he’s been a controversial one. From his debut in 1996 with Crocodile to 2008’s Dream he made fifteen films of varying quality and similar themes usually populated by violent loners searching for love and acceptance in the worst ways possible. Their journeys often included both inward and outward-facing acts of brutality, and they rarely spared the fairer sex from the abuse. It’s that last bit that led to Kim being labeled on more than one occasion as an unrepentant misogynist. For a director averaging more than a film a year his subsequent three year absence from cinema following Dream left many people, both fans and detractors, wondering as to the reason. Had he quit the movies due to their poor reception in his home country? Had he finally run out of rage, emotion or ideas? Had he moved to Hollywood to pursue a gig on the next Hunger Games sequel? It turns out to be none of the above. Kim returned to theaters this year with a documentary of sorts called Arirang. (He also returned to Cannes and left with the Un Certain Regard award.) Written, directed, produced, edited, lit, shot and catered by Kim, and featuring nobody but Kim, the film acts as an explanation of his sabbatical and a look into his mind, heart and occasionally tortured soul. Exactly how much of it is the truth though may be up for debate…

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Culture Warrior

In the late 1990s, two quite divergent Iranian films were recognized on the Western stage. During the 1999 Academy Awards, Majid Majidi’s Children of Heaven, a touching Satyajit Ray-like neorealist drama about a pair of siblings searching for lost shoes, became the first Iranian film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Two years earlier, in May 1997, Abbas Kiarostami’s minimalist exercise Taste of Cherry won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first Iranian film to do so. By the tail end of the twentieth century, Iran had made its way onto the stage of world-renowned arthouse filmmaking. While other cinematically underrepresented nations have oscillated in and out of prominence as the place where great new movies are being pioneered (South Korea, Romania), Iran has consistently, albeit quietly, given the West a limited but incredible output of challenging and innovative films.

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives proved to be a divisive film in its commercial release following its surprise Palme d’Or win at last year’s Cannes. On the one hand, the strange film’s recognition exhibited a triumphant glimmer of hope for international art cinema in a world economy that hasn’t exactly been making room for ‘difficult’ art. On the other, for many the film has itself proved to be an alienating experience and was written off as a pretentious exercise that exemplifies the worst tendencies of art cinema.

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Culture Warrior

There has been a heated debate happening in the world of art cinema criticism, from the printed words of Sight and Sound to the blogspots of grad students, about the status and function of a continually dominating aesthetic known as slow cinema. The discussion basically goes like this: on one hand, slow cinema is a rare, unique and truly challenging methodological approach to film that exists to push the boundaries and expectations of plot and pacing to an extreme antithetical to expectations conditioned by mainstream filmmaking, disrupting the norm by presenting a cinema that focuses on details and mood – in a way that only cinema can – rather than narrative; on the other hand, slow cinema has become such an established and familiar formal approach witnessed in art houses and (especially) film festivals (like Cannes, where such films are repeatedly lauded and rewarded) that they have devolved into a paint-by-numbers approach to get an “in” into such venues rather than a sincere exploration of the potentialities of cinematic expression, and furthermore the repeated celebration of slow cinema devalues the medium’s equal potential to manipulate time by condensing it or speeding it up (‘fast’ cinema).

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