Synthesised or not, watching Kim Ki-duk break down is a cabin an exercise in pure hubris.
There’s a famous interview with Lou Reed from Mojo magazine in which the notoriously cantankerous Velvet Underground frontman starts to openly weep when played a saxophone sequence from his latest album, The Raven. On the page, it was difficult to gauge whether this was an act of pure, unfettered narcissism or a sincere demonstration of emotion in full, glorious flow.
Enter South Korea’s Kim Ki-duk, a film director who, it transpires, has much in common with Reed. He’s lauded as something of a pioneer and a national treasure, despite the fact that his creative output has been patchy at best. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter...and Spring is his Transformer, The Isle is his Berlin and Time is his Sally Can’t Dance. His latest, the highly personal and unforgivingly experimental auto- critique, Arirang, could be chalked up as his answer to Metal Machine Music.
During the production of his 2008 film, Dream, there was an accident on set in which the lead actress was nearly choked to death. She was only saved as a result of Kim’s personal intervention. Arirang – named after a Korean folk song which Kim drunkenly caterwauls at 30-minute intervals – sees the director, now suffering from artist’s block and a severe case of the blues, chronicling his life during a period of self-imposed exile. His camera becomes a mirror: Kim stares into it and simply rants. Then he makes an espresso with a machine he built himself. Then he rants some more.
Kim has some serious issues to deal with, and his doom-laden exploration of life’s ultimate futility and death’s omnipresent gaze is verbose, repetitive and only sporadically profound. His propensity for self-congratulation (he has decorated his cabin with the posters and scripts of all his past films) makes it much more difficult to empathise with his struggle. Also, like Reed, Kim films himself in floods of tears as he watches footage of himself (naturally) dragging a millstone up a hill.
Jafar Panahi’s brilliant DV confessional, This is Not a Film, seems an apt point of comparison, even though it’s a much more sophisticated, nuanced and philosophically rich work. Arirang is a slog, as Kim – intentionally or otherwise – swiftly tips over from a confused loner attempting to claw his way out of depression to a rather distasteful, vain and violent gentleman who can’t understand why the entire world won’t see him for the tortured and sensitive genius he clearly is.
Despite a critical mauling, it was the surprise winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes 2011.
The diametric opposite of happy fun times.
Vaguely interesting, but mostly painful and confusing.