Haikus on celluloid
Korean film director Kim ki-Duk was the toast of the just concluded tenth International Film Festival of Kerala.
Critics carped endlessly about shortcomings in aesthetics, audiences were captivated by his novel approach.
ETHEREAL POETRY ON FILM: A shot from his film `Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring.'
At 30, he watched his first film in a theatre. Six years later came Kim ki-Duk's first brush with filmmaking, resulting in his debut feature `Crocodile' (1996). In the short span thereafter, this South Korean director has established himself as one of the most compelling filmmakers of our times.
The 10th International Film Festival of Kerala featured a retrospective of his work: `Address Unknown' (2001), `Bad Guy' (2001), `The Coast Guard' (2002), `Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring' (2003), `Samaritan Girl' (2004) and `3-Iron' (2004). The festival audience warmed up to Kim ki-Duk immediately: even repeat screenings of his films showed to overflowing halls.
The engaging quote - "It is sometimes hard to tell if the world we live in is either a dream or a reality" - closes his film `3-Iron.' It is equally hard to encapsulate the life and art of this South Korean director, whose films alternate between brutal violence and lyricism.
A school dropout, Kim ki-Duk worked in factories before a short and successful stint in the military. In 1990 he left for France where he pursued painting on the streets, and discovered cinema in the theatres. Those two years were to be the turning point in his life.
The magic of Paris kindled his artistic genius: from someone who believed that "production by manual labour is the only worthwhile thing in life," Kim was set firmly on the path of creative expression and exploration.
Kim ki-Duk returned to South Korea and plunged into filmmaking. His lack of formal training proved both a bane and a boon: while critics carped endlessly about shortcomings in film basics and aesthetics, audiences were captivated by his refreshingly novel approach.
`Address Unknown,' Kim ki-Duk's most political film, pans across the South Korean mindscape as it comes to terms with its war-ravaged past and the legacy of colonialism.
There are moments of uncompromising brutality: the pursuit and killing of canines for their meat is shown in raw detail; characters are raped, beaten up or killed. There is also a thread of wry, thought-provoking humour in the narrative.
Mid-way through the film, three characters with a bandaged right eye (similar injuries sustained variously) march past the screen in a smile-inducing shot that is also a telling comment on how post-colonial people are destined to a scarred, incomplete perception.
The later films in his oeuvre reflect a softened approach, as Kim ki-Duk stops raging against the dying light of the day and turns inward for answers. `Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring' and `3-Iron,' for instance, are haikus on celluloid: few characters, minimal dialogues and a lyrical, almost spiritual feel. These also herald the resurgence of Kim ki-Duk the painter: note the chiaroscuro long shot of the protagonists' first kiss in `3-Iron' and the ethereal images of the Buddhist monastery floating on a lake in `Spring... '
These films tackle fundamental issues of existence, but the cinematic approach is informed by Kim's growing awareness that the world can be found in a blade of grass.
With the 10th IFFK, the doors to Kim ki-Duk's wonderland have been opened and Kerala awaits its next tryst with this mesmerising filmmaker.
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