Busan: Kim Ki-duk to Tone Down Violence for $30M Chinese Epic 'Who Is God'

Director Kim Ki-duk Portrait - P 2014
AP Images

Director Kim Ki-duk Portrait - P 2014

The South Korean iconoclast looks to make his films more audience — and censorship-friendly as he crosses over to big-budget filmmaking.

South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk is notorious for pushing boundaries of onscreen brutality, depicting ghastly details of everything from rape and incest to castration — but the Venice Golden Lion winner says he will tone things down for his Chinese-language film debut Who Is God (working title) — a $30 million war epic that marks the director's crossover to big-budget filmmaking and virtual retirement from the Korean film industry.

"I received an investment of about $30 million from China and am preparing the film. It's about three times the total budget of the 20 films, combined, that I shot in Korea," said Kim during the Busan International Film Festival.

Kim's 2014 film One on One for example drew a mere 8,000 admissions in the Korean box office, and he even urged fans to download his films illegally if it means that they could reach more viewers. "When I was in China, about one out every 10 subway passengers recognized me. I don't think they all saw my films in the cinema. They must have been fans who saw it by illegally downloading them, but I don't care," he said.

For his Chinese project, however, he is willing to cater to a wider range of audiences by toning things down from the script level.

"I am willing to alter the content of my film for the Chinese audience," Kim was quoted as saying when asked about how Chinese censors might react to the strong adult themes of his films, according to Chinese media, during a press event in Beijing on Sept. 27 for Who Is God.

Kim has been working on the script of Who Is God for about 10 years. It is a period battle piece set in ancient times when a religious war ensues due to the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. "There are many Hollywood movies about the Crusade and other religious conflicts, and I imagined something similar may have occurred in Asia as well as Buddhism crossed Indian borders," said the filmmaker.

China's JSNH Film will handle the production. The script is currently being reviewed by Chinese authorities, Kim Soon-mo, producer of the director's production company Kim Ki-duk Films, told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's possible that the script may be altered as we heard is common in China. Censorship issues are something we need to work with," said the producer.

Kim isn't new to censorship issues. His Venice-winning film Pieta ignited controversy as the Korean Media Rating Board virtually banned it from local theaters.

The director is also currently casting local actors, and has expressed his interest in working with superstars such as Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li. While Kim's productions have been notoriously low-budget, this did not stop Asian A-listers such as Japan's Joe Odagiri to take part.

Moreover, Kim implied that he would be leaving the Korean film industry, at least  for the meantime.

"I have shot about 20 films in Korea. I think I've told all the stories I've wanted to tell in Korea," he said.