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Embattled South Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk met the international media at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday — and almost immediately he was called upon to address the controversy surrounding his alleged abuse of an actress on set.
The victim, whose identity has not been revealed in accordance with South Korean privacy laws, accused Kim last year of slapping her three times and forcing her to perform unscripted nude sex scenes during the shooting of his 2013 film Moebius, which premiered in Venice. Included in her account is the claim that Kim forced her to take hold of an actor’s penis despite a prior assurance that a prosthesis would be used. She was later replaced by another actress in the film.
A South Korean court fined Kim $4,600 (5 million won) for assault, but prosecutors dropped the sexual abuse charges citing a lack of evidence.
“I don’t entirely agree with this ruling but I acknowledged it and I’ve shouldered the responsibility for it,” Kim said in Berlin Saturday afternoon, following the first press screening of his latest graphically violent art house fever dream, Human, Space, Time and Human, which is showing in Berlin’s Panorama section.
Kim then reiterated his past accounts of the slapping incident, insisting that his actions were meant as acting instruction.
“What we were doing was rehearsing a scene,” he said. “There were a lot of people present. My crew back then did not object at all and didn’t say it was inappropriate. … It was related to artistic performance and acting, but I believe the actress interpreted it differently than I did.”
When asked directly whether he would like to apologize for slapping the actress, Kim declined. “No, I find it regrettable that this was turned into a court case,” he said.
The actress has told the Korean media that she is disappointed by the court’s dismissal of the sexual abuse allegations and has already filed an appeal.
The inclusion of Human, Space, Time and Human in Berlin’s lineup has inspired considerable controversy, with many seeing hypocrisy in the event’s simultaneous embrace of the #MeToo movement and countenance of Kim.
“We are living in this unfair reality in which a physical assault offender is working and being welcomed everywhere as if nothing happened, while the victim who spoke out against the abuse is being isolated and marginalized,” a coalition of 140 South Korean civic groups, including human rights groups and local filmmakers’ associations, told the AFP in advance of the festival.
“Berlinale Panorama has decided to eschew prejudgment and will present Kim Ki-duk’s most recent film,” Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick said in a statement. “However, the Berlinale condemns all kinds of violence on set, be it of sexual or other origin.”
In line with the provocative filmmaking that made him famous, Kim’s new work is a brutal, surrealist meditation on the violent nature of human history and behavior, including multiple scenes of rape, murder and even cannibalism. The film follows a small group of people who embark on a tourist cruise aboard an old war ship, where all hell breaks loose.
Late in the press conference, Kim was asked why violence has been such a recurrent element in his filmmaking, as well as South Korean cinema at large.
He replied: “I have been asked this question many times in my career. There were two traumas for Korea in recent history: Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War. Many Korean filmmakers carry this trauma within them, and as Korean film industry really began to boom, you’ve seen many directors grappling with these issues, so you see a lot of violence, pain and dictatorial elements.”
As the Berlin press conference drew to a close, Kim thanked the organizers for inviting him and expressed appreciation to the crowd for their questions: “I could feel that you are very concerned about violence and I would like to thank you for that. I try to be a good human being. You should know that I don’t actually live my life like my films.”
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