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Archive for August, 2014

Five years ago when I was living in South Korea, one of my coworkers asked me why the films of Kim Ki-duk were so popular in the West. Being somewhat blindsided by the question, I didn’t have a good answer at the time, though had I been more on the ball, I might’ve pointed out that, while his movies have won numerous prizes at different European film festivals, only Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003) was a modest art house hit — prompting an almost hysterical backlash from critics with Tony Rayns, an expert on Asian cinema, leading the charge. (If I recall correctly, he dubbed Kim “the overrated poster boy for Korean cinema” in an article for Film Comment.) Personally, I rather liked The Isle (2000) and Spring, Summer… despite their ham-fisted poetic conceits, but after seeing Bad Guy (2001) and 3-Iron (2004) — both utterly idiotic — I had to concede that Rayns had a point and I subsequently lost interest in Kim’s work.

So why do his movies keep getting invited to festivals like Venice and Cannes? Kim first came to prominence with The Isle, which provoked a scandal at the Venice Film Festival due to its juxtaposition of pastel coloured natural settings with scenes of self-mutilation and unsimulated animal cruelty, reportedly causing some audience members to throw up or faint. Jumping ahead thirteen years to Moebius [sic] (2013), one finds that Kim has inflated the onscreen brutality to cartoonish proportions while dispensing with the pretty colours and meditative rhythms of his earlier work. Wielding his DV camera like a blunt instrument, Kim has no flair for blocking, framing, sound-image relations, or constructing time and space, but instead seems to regard the camera simply as an instrument for recording profilmic content in much the same way that some performance artists document their work on video.

That said, I still might’ve enjoyed the film as canned theatre had any part of its story made sense. However, it’s doubtful that a married man whose wife already suspects him of having an affair would be so careless as to get it on with a shopkeeper in the front seat of a parked car in full view of both his wife and their teenage son. And while one sometimes reads stories in the news about vengeful wives castrating their husbands, I’ve yet to hear of anyone chopping off their son’s penis and eating it when they fail in their original aim. Furthermore, although it only took the Tokyo police three days to nab Sada Abe in 1936, the wife in this movie evidently spends several months wandering the streets barefoot only to return home out of the blue still wearing the same bloodstained clothes and is immediately welcomed back into the family. While she’s away, her son buys a bottle of Pocari Sweat (which tastes as gross as it sounds) from the shopkeeper and she inexplicably flashes her tits at him. And when he’s later sent to juvie for reasons that elude me, his father mails him a how-to on orgasmic self-mutilation, which the guards obligingly pass along to him.

To be sure, the film’s hyperbole is sometimes amusing in a demented sort of way (I was particularly tickled by a slapstick sequence in which a rapist has his dick cut off by the teenage boy and then chases him down the street in an attempt to retrieve it, which plays like an uncommonly twisted Buster Keaton short), but mostly it’s just monotonous. I lost count of how many times the husband bitch-slapped his bitch wife, who invariably falls backwards to the floor with her skirt flying up around her waist so that we can get a good look at her panties. And there are seemingly just as many scenes in which the shopkeeper stabs the teenage boy or her rapist in the back with a big knife and then swivels it around like a joystick until he climaxes without causing any serious injuries. Yes, the actors’ dedication is admirable, but if you’re going to be slapped around, felt up, and stripped on camera, don’t you want it to be for a movie that doesn’t suck?

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