Kim Ki-Duk

Also Known As: Kim Gi-Deok
Job:Director, Producer, Writer
Date of birth:December 20, 1960
Country:South Korea

Items (total 68 items)

About Kim Ki-Duk
Director Kim Ki-Duk (1960-) occupies a very special place in Korean cinema, and has been expanding his filmography with an incredible speed. After he made his debut with "Crocodile/Alligator" in 1996, he completed 7 feature films in six years, "Wild Animals" (1997), "Birdcage Inn" (1998), "The Isle" (1999), "Real Fiction" (2000), "Address Unknown" (2001), and "The Villain" (2001). His guerrilla filmmaking method, with its extreme low budget and speed is very controversial. But, it is astonishing that he continues to make films although he has never been a commercial success in Korea. Unlike most Korean film directors who come from either the middle or upper classes and have a high level of education, Kim Gi-Deok lived most of his life having "almost nothing to do with culture." This enables him to create an extraordinary portrayal of those who are deprived of decent living conditions. No other Korean director knows the mass of humanity, so used to despair and degradation, who hardly know a path to self-redemption, as well as Kim Gi-Deok does. Yet his films are also full of imaginative and attractive graphic images, like sparks of fire shooting out of darkness. "The Isle" and "Address Unknown" have been invited to compete at the Venice International Film Festival, and his reputation as a "representative Korean director with both originality and commercial appeal" is likely to spread overseas.

Alligator/The Crocodile
The 12th Umea International Film Festival
The 2nd Pusan International Film Festival, Korean Panorama

Wild Animals/Wildlife Reservation Zone
The 17th Vancouver International Film Festival,

Birdcage Inn
The 1st Noosa International Film Festival, World Cinema Award
The 49th Berlin International Film Festival, Panorama Selection (Opening Film)
The 23rd Montreal World Film Festival, World Cinema Selection
The 34th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Another View Selection
The 23rd Moscow International Film Festival, Special Panorama Section
The 13th AFI Los Angeles International Film Festival, Competition Selection

The Isle
The 57th Venice International Film Festival, Competition Selection / Netpac Award
The 21st Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Award
The 30th Rotterdam International Film Festival
The 25th Moscow International Film Festival, Special Jury Prize
The 21st Fantasporto: Oporto International Film Festival, Special Jury Award / Best Actress Award
The 19th Brussel Fantastic International Film Festival, Grand prix

Real Fiction
The 26th Moscow International Film Festival, Competition Selection

The 58th Venice International Film Festival, Competition Selection

"It's like a groan from an abyss.
The wounded earth screams and the voice is getting louder little by little.
The voice comes from the deepest place like an aperture of an abyss, a roaring abyss."

- Antonin Artaud

1. The films of KIM Ki-Duk tend to make one uncomfortable. Who wouldn't be uncomfortable when they witness the foreign reality and the hovering unidentifiable images of the imagination? Furthermore, feminist film critics criticize him with hysterical hatred, calling him, 'psycho' or a 'good-for-nothing filmmaker.'

KIM Ki-Duk himself tries to explain this as 'anxiety the mainstream tends to have towards the non-mainstream.' He contrasts himself from filmmakers such as HONG Sangsoo and LEE Chang-dong and their 'intellectual inclinations,' defining himself as 'non-mainstream' in opposition to the latter's position as 'mainstream.' This is an attempt to separate his ideology and aesthetics from that of the others, but more importantly it is an indirect recollection of his childhood. After finishing elementary school he has revealed that he spent time working at factories from the age of 17. In 1990, after collecting enough money to buy a plane ticket, he left for France, 'studying abroad,' selling his own paintings for the next two years. He is not the beneficiary of any 'normal' institutional education. Hence, any 'mainstream' sensibility or form of discourse may have been uncomfortable to one, such as himself, who has been roaming the margins.

Until he made his directorial debut film, Crocodile in 1996, KIM Ki-Duk had never experienced any film-related education. On the contrary, he trained himself while making films, experimenting with the medium at the same time. This is perhaps why his films are vulnerable to criticism attacking him at the level of film basics and aesthetic perfection. He responds to this by making the comment that 'It is perhaps a relief to these critics that KIM Ki-Duk maintains an awkwardness.'

Therefore, in order for the various controversies surrounding KIM Ki-Duk's films to become productive, it may be better to return to the beginning of the cinema and re-examine the boundaries between reality and cinema.

2. If we were to define the characters in KIM Ki-Duk's films as marginal or social misfits, it would be correct to say that the filmmaker himself has shared this life as well. His childhood is filled with painful and peculiar episodes.

KIM Ki-Duk was born in Bonghwa, north of Kyungsang Province. Growing up in a mountainous village, he was a mischievous boy who occasionally broke other children's arms, or show his peers strange electronic gadgets of his own creation. When he turned nine, he moved to Seoul with his parents. He entered an agriculture training school, but he was forced to give up junior high after his older brother was dismissed from school. Going through factories during his adolescent years, he joined the marines when he turned 20.

KIM adapted well to military life, spending five years as a noncommissioned officer. This experience may have served as material for the rich details of brotherhood shared among the men of his films. The relationships between Hong-san and Chung-hae in Wild Animals, and Chang-gook and Ji-hum in Address Unknown are two examples. This also evolves into the kind of sisterhood shown between the two women in Birdcage Inn.

After leaving the marines, KIM spent two years at a church for the visually impaired with the intention of becoming a preacher while continuing the painting he started as a child. In 1990, with only a plane ticket in his possession, he left for Paris. He manages to earn a living by organizing ateliers or selling his paintings. When KIM arrived in Paris he considered 'production by manual labor the only worthwhile thing in life, while regarding culture as a mere luxury,' but his experiences in the city inspired him with new views.

He describes Ji-hum of Address Unknown and Crocodile of Crocodile as himself. Even without such explanation, we can easily detect the filmmaker's persona in these characters as they are all painters. They all carry a symbol of hope: vulnerable life forms such as a bird, a goldfish and a turtle.

3. Upon his return from France, KIM focused on developing a film script for the next six months. He received the good news that two of his scripts had been selected in a contest. Unfamiliar with composition, not to mention spelling, he diligently worked on his scripts while urging himself to focus on matters of immediate concern and not on a distant future that seemed beyond his reach.

Accordingly KIM's film life began in a manner quite different from the channels other filmmakers took. Free of any institutional education in film, he never served as assistant director or developed film mania. But this is precisely the reason for the freedom he was able to embrace as a filmmaker. His films can be considered as autobiographical writing with a film camera. This is why KIM describes each and every one of his films as a 'sequence' within his entire body of work.

Therefore, his debut feature, Crocodile, represents his life and his experiences, signaling the beginning of a series of films that can be identified as the unique cinema of KIM Ki-Duk. The cruelty that has become his trademark was impregnated with the harsh reality that inundated his life of thirty some odd years.

In Crocodile, KIM attempts to reverse the metaphor of Korea's new capitalist prosperity represented through the Han River by revealing an 'abnormal' world behind all the positive development and order, while also disclosing the endangered lives of the crocodiles caught within a dangerous structure of exploitation. Originally titled 'The Two Crocodiles,' Wild Animals also presents the most open and embracing city in Europe, Paris, as a place far from the safe 'preserve' for wild animals such as North Korean soldier, Hong-san (Red Mountain), and untalented painter, Chung-hae (blue sea).

4. The angry energy overflowing from his earlier works shifts to a careful fantasy seeking co-existence and reconciliation in Birdcage Inn. In this film, KIM attempts to draw in sex as a 'part of life' and transform it into a 'medium for understanding each other.'

His fourth feature, The Isle, serves as a significant turning point for KIM. Once again the views directed at his film were divided into extremes, yet his entrance into competition at Venice, and the international sales scores became an opportunity for KIM to be acknowledged as 'a filmmaker who may not be fully understood but should be accepted as talented.' This film brought the breath-taking, piercing images appearing occasionally in his earlier works to the surface, earning him a reputation as 'a filmmaker who contemplates through images,' an expression never used since YOO Hyun-mok, the master of Korean cinema during the golden days of the 1960s.

An Italian journalist commenting on The Isle which stated that "the distinction between loving or not loving someone has become meaningless." In this film KIM returns to the sadomasochistic relationship between man and woman. He explains that such change "isn't planned but something that just jumps out with the immediate response from one's sensory and nervous systems."

In fact, his films seem to follow this course. The characters in his films continue to betray and disappoint the audience by shifting between good and evil, beauty and ugliness. Likewise, instead of defining them as good or bad, we as an audience are urged to suspect the boundaries of class, gender, normality and abnormality, order and disorder, the center and the margins themselves. The character James in KIM's latest feature, Address Unknown, takes this role. KIM comments on the painful issue of the U.S. military based in Korea by stating, "each soldier as an individual, is merely a lonely being, spending his youth in a foreign country."

In his fifth feature, Real Fiction, KIM explores the boundaries between the conscious and the unconscious, reality and fantasy. Another persona of KIM's, 'I' in this film, is instigated by his 'id' when he comes across a play. A point of view shot, a form of surveillance, follows his unconscious, recording its every impression. Returning to reality at the end of the journey of the conscious, he realizes that nothing about the city of Seoul has changed. KIM comments that "films do not change reality but rather the conscious state of an individual."

5. KIM Ki-Duk's films are often defined as "grotesque." This word, which has lately become a fad in Korea, is now the significant key word representing the fall of mental stability and its various cultural expressions.

To KIM, his life, his films and cruelty are intertwined with each other. The cruel reality he expresses may be feared by the audience and abhorred by the critics, yet if the energy that inundates his films should be acknowledged as dark and wrongful, it cannot just be a matter of his films. Rather it must be seen as his attempt to address the cruelty of our lives and of the world we live in.

Address Unknown traces our cruelty back to the history of colonialism and the Korean War. He takes us to that reality, into the direction of self-reform. Such modest effort for KIM is a starting point, foreseeing the revolution of the world. Like Antonin Artaud, who at the beginning of the 20th century introduced the theater of cruelty as a means to find a cure for himself and others, KIM, whose films are filled with destruction, rape and murder, uses bloody terror and sadism not as a means to an end but as a sacrifice for returning humanity to a state before being defiled by a cruel reality.

This is the reason why KIM responds to the hateful criticism directed at him by saying, "Have you ever really seen the lives I present through my films? Have you ever truly looked into the desperate messages contained in my work?" He adds that filmmaking to him is "a process to change his own misunderstandings into an understanding." Through film, he has finally begun to experience the beauty and warmth the world has to give. He explains that filmmaking to him is repeating the process of " kidnapping those of the mainstream into my own space, then introducing myself as a human being also asking them to shake my hand so that they will be able to forgive my threatening position."

6. British film critic Tony Rayns, who knows KIM Ki-Duk all too well, describes him as an interesting person. His sensitivity, stubbornness and aggressiveness often make it difficult for others to communicate with him. However he is capable of becoming an angel with his innocent and soft expression when he is aware that he is being loved and understood.

KIM relies on his inherent sensitivity, direct observation and personal experience. Now finally receiving local and international attention, it seems that he is going through an unsettling tug-of-war between 'the gaze from outside' and his 'inner-self.' For those who are willing to give advice to KIM Ki-Duk in the name of life or art, the most important point is focusing not on the aesthetic exterior of an object, but on the inner fire that may be easily destroyed yet is rigorously burning with life.

This is precisely the reason why KIM Ki-Duk is often compared to another master of the golden age of Korean cinema, KIM Ki-young.

What KIM Ki-Duk truly longs for is a gentle touch that will soothe his ragged inner world, yet keep his spirit intact. Sincere criticism along with encouragement from the heart is also a necessity.

This enigmatic filmmaker is adding to his filmography with incredible energy and at an amazing pace, but it is yet to be seen whether he will continue the diabolic desire and aesthetics that disappeared with KIM Ki-young. Embracing every possibility, once again he sets sail with his next feature, Napoon Namja (working title).

- KIM So-hee (Film Critic -