Arirang: Cannes Review

DIY filmmaking at its most resourceful and auteur cinema at its most narcissistic.

Kim Ki-duk's one-man show examines why he is now at an impasse after creating 15 internationally distributed and awarded films.

The glorious agony of struggling directors is a theme that’s been around for as long as filmmaking itself. Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang explores the reasons and emotions behind his three-year hiatus like a no-tech documentary answer to Fellini’s 8 1/2. A one-man production in which Kim engages in deep conversation with himself, his shadow, recorded images of himself and excerpts of his screen performances, it is so navel-gazing it makes Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis and Glory to the Filmmaker seem positively self-effacing.

Never a reliable commercial bet, this will be Kim’s least theatrically saleable work. The sour, malcontent attitude may be his devious way of playing up his bad-boy image to the cine-literati, but there’s precious little with which even an arthouse-inclined audience can identify with.

Kim begins with self-examination of why, after making 15 films that were internationally distributed and awarded, he has reached an impasse. He initially attributes it to trauma from an accident on the set of his last film, Dream, but gradually, it transpires that what’s holding him back is not creative block but financial.

In a swearing session delivered with machine gun speed and aggressiveness, he rants and riles at moviegoers, investors, protégés who in some way or other betrayed him. It culminates in a wish-fulfillment revenge spree that is funny for its anti-production-value statement.

Snippets of his hermitic mountain life become welcome diversions. As if he’s getting in touch with the primal instincts that characterize his protagonists, he camps in a tent inside a hut, makes simple meals and has fun with self-reassembled espresso and drip coffee machines. His primitive yet meticulous and creative handiworks reveal more about his unique style as a filmmaker, than the self-indulgent shots of his handwritten scripts, posters of his films and his oil paintings.

Kim also provides the score by belting out Arirang in a coarse but plaintive voice. This most famous of Korean folksongs expresses an abandoned woman’s feelings: She misses her lover even as she curses him. Although it’s obvious Kim identifies with her bitter lament, there is a tinge of pathos when he says “I miss all the film festivals I’ve been to.” The subtext being: he really misses filmmaking itself.

Filmed using a Mark II digital camera, Kim arranges the shots to make his monologues look like dialogues between — or commentaries on — two or three personas. Although sometimes the edits and compositions look casual, the overall technique is professional.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Certain Regard)
Sales: Finecut
Production company: Kim Ki-duk Film
Cast-director-screenwriter-producer-director of photography-music-editor: Kim Ki-duk
No rating, 100 minutes.