December 26, 2014

Arirang: Kim Ki-duk on Kim Ki-duk

Who's that crazy, wild-haired, middle-aged, crooked-toothed guy living in a tent in a cabin on the top of a snowy hill and filming himself with a digital camera as a way to jumpstart his creative process? Why, it's Kim Ki-duk, who else? What other South Korean movie director would create this idiosyncratic memoir. A kind of low-budget with no cast, no production values, and no script (but with a homemade espresso machine), Arirang is part cinema verite, part documentary, part art therapy, part ego masturbation, part pity party, part artsy fartsy mumbo jumbo, and part magic. In other words, Arirang may be kooky as hell but it's also pretty brilliant. As resurrections go, Kim's return -- after a three-year hiatus following the near-death of an actor during his last movie Dream -- is worth celebrating.

You wouldn't think so at first. Kim films himself walking, cooking, eating, "being". (The shots of the back of his chapped heels are particularly repulsive.) Then he interviews himself. Then he watches himself interviewing himself. Then he films his shadow interviewing himself. Then he watches himself in his earlier movie Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring and cries. But are the tears real? He's already told us his drunken crying earlier in Arirang might have been just for the drama of it all. When he builds a homemade gun at the end and shoots himself, we don't believe for a moment he's going to die. In a way, he's already been dead and only just coming back to life. Maybe he's telling us we have to kill our former selves to evolve. Maybe he's being theatrical because that's his way. Kim really isn't much for giving answers. His films, and this one is no exception, seem created to reflect a tension, a horror, an anguish currently existing in the world. You may not agree with Kim's assessment that it's caused by forcing vegetables to grow in greenhouses instead of free in the world, but you'd need prescription level rose-colored glasses to look around you and think everything's fine in terms of where we're at and where we're going as human beings on this ravaged planet.

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