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Kim Ki-duk

November 29, 2006

Time, 2006

time.gifOn the surface, Time is perhaps Kim Ki-duk's most brash, confrontational, and bituminous film since The Isle, an admirably crafted - and unexpectedly refreshing - return to his more familiar gothic, cringingly blunt, provocateur form after immersing in such aesthetically impeccable, but slight romanticized allegories riddled with obtuse, pseudo Zen mysticism and disjointed orientalism. Ostensibly presented as a dark, cautionary tale of an insecure woman, Seh-hee's (Ji-Yeon Park) desperate attempt to stop the process of time and recreate the spark of a new romance with her committed, long-term lover, Ji-woo (Jung-woo Ha) (a filmmaker who appears to be in the process of editing scenes from 3-Iron) by undergoing drastic facial reconstructive surgery in order to reinvent herself and, in turn, their relationship, the film is also a brutal and scathing exposition into the psychology and morality of contemporary (and in particular, Korean) society's obsession with cosmetic surgery. Nevertheless, despite Kim's penetrating, articulate, and relevant social critique, I can't help but express a certain degree of skepticism towards the very elements that, paradoxically, I find most trenchant and provocative about the film: a resistance that is integrally rooted in the film's uncanny resonance - not only in a vague, overarching, existential thematic semblance with avant-garde novelist Kobo Abe's recurring preoccupations on identity, alienation, and emotional disconnection, but in particular, with Hiroshi Teshigahara's earlier cinematic adaptations of Abe's work - that seem too coincidental not to be, at best, a faithful homage, and at worst, a lazy derivation. Indeed, this apparent plane of aesthetic convergence between Teshigahara's cinema and Kim's aesthetic vision for the film culminates with a similar, progressive montage, stationary camera ending shot, as a face obscured, "transformed" heroine (Hyeon-a Seong) of Time leaves the cosmetic surgeon's office and has a seemingly fateful encounter before slipping away from view and fading into the anonymity of a bustling crowd on a metropolitan city street: an image that seems conceptually readapted from the mise-en-scène of the concluding sequence in Teshigahara's The Face of Another (in which Okuyama's fateful encounter is with the doctor himself), as well as in The Man Without a Map (in the detective's deliberate act of relinquishing traces of his former life by following in the footsteps - and therefore, indirectly assuming the figurative identity - of his missing subject), a reflection of the protagonist's psychological fugue that is manifested in the detective's evasion of the missing man's wife in Teshigahara's film, and in the shattered, unclaimed, pre-operative surgery souvenir portrait in Time. In essence, the film's conflation of past and present (as reflected through the bookending sequence of a recursive encounter) represents the metaphoric collapse, not only of time, but of humanity itself, where identity is reduced to the reinforcement of meaningless social rituals and interchangeable, cosmetic masks, and connection is similarly revealed through equally impulsive and transitory acts of delusive, surrogate intimacy. It is this bracing - and brazen - social criticism that inevitably defines Kim's flawed, but impassioned observation of contemporary society's inherent dysfunctionality in the wake of facile, economic privilege: a lost generation foundering in a youth-oriented culture of vanity, rootlessness, excess, and disposability.

Posted by acquarello on Nov 29, 2006 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2006, Kim Ki-duk

August 22, 2005

The Bow, 2005

bow.gifOne aspect of Kim Ki-duk's filmmaking that I continue to find problematic is his penchant for introducing elements of pseudo-mythical orientalism in his films: a kind of exoticized mélange of stereotypical, yin-yang images of Eastern culture that would have audiences believe that when a Buddhist priest attains enlightenment, he also acquires a certain level of physical dexterity and knowledge of hand combat techniques to earn his nth degree martial arts black belt (as in Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring) or that there is a practical side to the art of Zen that, when mastered, can be applied to such nefarious activities as breaking and entering into people's homes (and seducing the lady of the house) without ever getting caught (as in 3-Iron). When introduced unobtrusively within the context of a better developed story, they are minor irritations in an otherwise commendable work. But when inserted as integral elements to propel an underformed narrative and reinforce ambitious, ephemeral themes that, when taken into root context, sink into the abyss of rationalized (and perhaps even morally justified) transgression, then no amount of evocative visuals or impeccable, aesthetic construction can redeem this inextricably mired concoction of half-baked philosophy and herb shop spirituality.

Such is the case with his latest offering The Bow, a film that combines familiar Kim elements of intimate isolation, triangular (romantic) conflict, and surrogate acts of transcendence. The opening sequence of the old man transforming his archery bow into a traditional bowed musical instrument by inserting a small drum and a wooden bridge provides a foreshadowing of this quasi-Zen holistic balance, a heavy-handed juxtaposition that quickly transforms from the sublime to the ridiculous when a weekend fisherman asks to have his fortune read: a bizarre fusion of divining ritual and vaudeville act that involves suspending an innocent, virginal young girl (and his self-anointed future wife) on a swing that is placed on the side of the boat in front of a large painting of Buddha, and target shooting the portrait as the girl precariously swings back and forth. However, even the loopy recurrence of these carnivalesque, fortune-telling sequences could not foretell the indescribably gauche realization and vulgar, transparent symbolism of the film's preposterous and embarrassingly laughable final scene. Rather than validating Kim's entry into a subtler, more artistically mature phase that had been reflected in his recent films since Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall...and Spring, The Bow instead regurgitates like a bloated self-parody of his earlier work.

Posted by acquarello on Aug 22, 2005 | | Comments (5) | Filed under 2005, Kim Ki-duk