Kim Ki-duk Case Seen as Win for #MeToo in South Korea

Kim Ki-duk - Getty - H 2016
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Kim Ki-duk

The local court dropped the award-winning filmmaker's defamation complaint, but onlookers say industry has a long way to go.

With a South Korean court last week making a ruling against famous director Kim Ki-duk and in favor of the #MeToo movement that took the Asian country by storm throughout 2018, local film industry people say there is a long way to go for activists.

In late 2017, a South Korean actress accused the filmmaker of physical and sexual assault, and a popular investigative TV news show reported the case among other allegations in March 2018. The famed director, who has earned much international acclaim, including winning the Venice Golden Lion and the Berlin Silver Bear, has denied the charges and went on to sue the two parties for criminal defamation.

The actress in question said that Kim forced her to perform unscripted sex scenes and beat her repeatedly on the set of the 2013 award-winning film Moebius before eventually replacing her with another actress. Prosecutors dropped the sex abuse charge, citing lack of evidence, but fined Kim for physical assault.

Several other actresses came forward, accusing the director of raping or harassing them through MBC's PD Notebook, which aired as #MeToo gained momentum in South Korea.

Kim asked prosecutors to investigate PD Notebook journalists for defamation and the formerly cast actress of Moebius for defamation and false accusation. Under South Korea's defamation law, libel is a crime and stating the truth can still be an offense if it is deemed to have tarnished one's social reputation. Last week, prosecutors rejected Kim's complaints.

The theatrical release of Kim's latest film Human, Time, Space and Human, which premiered at the Berlinale in February last year and was originally scheduled for release in April, has been indefinitely postponed. An industry insider who once worked very closely with Kim said he has been out of reach for some time.

"Surely it won't be easy for artists implicated in #MeToo to regain their foothold in the business," film critic Yoon Sung-eun tells THR.

Yoon is among industry watchers that are wary, however, that #MeToo still has a long way to go in South Korea.

"It's been only a year since #MeToo really exploded here but now it feels like it never happened," Yoon said. "While the Kim Ki-duk case helped spotlight sexual abuse problems in the South Korean film industry, it is an issue that has been around far too long. The problem is that many cases are difficult to prove due to lack of evidence. Worse still, Korea's social climate continues to make it difficult for women to speak up."