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South Korea 2011

Documentary, Drama

Kim Ki-duk

Kim Ki-duk

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Story: Director Kim Ki-duk lives in a secluded shed and has fallen into a severe depression. He only does what's necessary for living and apart from that lives only for the moment. Three years he has already been in this condition. Although he knows that there are people who would like to see some new films from him and he himself would like to return to filmmaking, too, he simply can't. He is occupied by existential questions aroused by an accident at the set of his last movie and disappointments he had to experience because of the people around him. What does it mean for Kim Ki-duk to make movies? What purpose have his films served up to now and can he find a justification to make new movies? The director becomes his own biggest critic and faces some unpleasant questions in a dialogue with himself. By this means he hopes to overcome his depression and express his anger and sorrow. All of this Kim Ki-duk wraps up in a movie that serves him as a sort of self-treatment and is only aimed at an audience to a limited degree, although the director also wants to give everyone out there an explanation why we haven't heard of him for such a long time, too.

Review: We are used to see very extreme and unsettling films by Kim Ki-duk. As a viewer of his art you can either understand his movies and learn to love them or simply hate them. Kim is quite aware of that himself but none of his movies were so irritating and unsettling in a very earnest way as is "Arirang". There is no embellishment and great picture composition, even though this statement has to be discarded later when taking a closer look, instead the director ruthlessly and in an at times truely unpleasant way strips his soul. This unpleasantness is actually what's standing as the film's appeal and can be captivating all the way through. We dive into the mindset of a complex individual who is full of contradictions and knows this. In his movies director Kim constantly depicts a gruesome world but how come he is so naive that disappointments take such an emotional toll on him? It is even more difficult to ask yourself this question but as with his characters in former movies Kim Ki-duk is dealing with himself extremely ruthless as well.

You can't argue that it became apparent in Kim's last movies that the director is always telling stories around similar topics. To him the world simply consists of sadism, masochism and torturing yourself. He seems to be especially well-versed in the latter because in approximately 100 minutes we see the moviemaker hate and feel sorry for himself. Inevitably this and the fact that he remains very honest at all times lead to the viewer sympathizing with him, too. Without that it might have become difficult to bear witness to his self-afflicted torment the whole time. With "Arirang" he also creates something new for the medium film, in a certain way he also reinvents himself, although you have to assume that this is no path Kim will wander in the future as well. He just keeps the camera pointed at himself and reflects about who he is, his life and his work. The answers he gets aren't encoded in any way as in his other works but are clearly evident.

Kim Ki-duk would have made it very difficult for the viewer if he had sat in front of a camera and rambled on about his life in a neverending monologue and with lots of tears. Instead he interviews himself, at one time he even has to answer the questions of his shadow, and when under the influence of alcohol he starts to get more sentimental, we just get to see him watch his recording and ask himself: "Why is this idiot crying now?" Kim adds a good amount of self-mockery to the movie and thus proves that the scenes in his former dramas, which actually made you want to laugh out loud because of their oddness but made you wonder if you were allowed to, were in fact not just meant to be taken too serious! Another fascinating thing is seeing Kim watch his own interview while the questioning still continues. Sometimes this bestows an unusually deeply nested structure on "Arirang" that also symbolizes the individual Kim Ki-duk's diverse layers and strips them bare one after another.

"Arirang" has been solely shot with a digital camera and goes without any artificial lighting or anything. Kim also stresses himself that there is put too much emphasize on a certain look of movies nowadays. And this even though his films are also standing out because of beautiful pictures. However, he is annoyed by the uniform look of Korean movies. He himself manages to capture quite a few nice shots of the secluded shed in "Arirang" and this despite the minimal technical means at hand. Still, his movie thankfully isn't presented to us completely unfiltered and without any structure either. Instead of monologues that know no end Kim constantly creates some more serence scenes in which we bear witness of the director's unspectacular everyday life or watch him repair certain machines and thus gives us the necessary breaks to let his words sink in. He also gives voice to his inner pain through the singing of the Korean folk song Arirang on several occasions, at some times in a quiet tone and melancholic, at others crying it out full of agony. For him this song describes life itself. Sometimes things go uphill, at others downhill...

It is pretty obvious that Kim Ki-duk is looking for the path back uphill. For this he needs to give his anger some room. Therefore he builds a gun, which in itself is a little piece of art - you can feel free to discuss the meaning of the Buddha on the pistol grip -, and takes revenge on a few individuals. Who they are exactly we don't know, Kim Ki-duk just shows us some places he drives to. Those people he is aiming at surely will recognize their place of work/home. In the end even this documentary of his, you can also call it a drama, crosses the border to a fantasy world. What remains at the end? The viewer is emotionally stirred up, confused and feels oddly moved. Those who didn't know much about Kim Ki-duk will learn a lot about him in this relentless self portrait of a director trapped in a deep depression. Many of his words contain honest worldly wisdom and in general "Arirang" is an impressively honest and private experimental movie. No film that was created for entertainment purpose but one that will stick to you even days after watching it. Kim Ki-duk has finally created something new and by doing so he also treated himself. His newest movie "Amen" is already finished...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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