The near-death of an actress on set nearly ended director Kim Ki-Duk’s career four years ago, but after making ‘Pieta’, which took best picture at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the maker of 2003’s sublime ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring’ is now South Korea’s most feted auteur.
Kim’s gritty, artistic movies have shocked and carried deep social messages since the self-taught, working-class director debuted with his low-budget movie ‘Crocodile’ in 1996.
He has remained an outsider and something of a fringe figure on the Korean arts scene, describing himself as a monster, thriving on his inferiority complex.
“It is an element that makes me train myself harder and grow bigger. The word ‘monster’ sounds as if it’s something enormous, unidentifiable and predatory. Monster means monster, but I don’t think it’s that bad,” he half-joked.
The movie, which Kim said he made as a comment on capitalism in Korea, scooped the Golden Lion award at Venice, where one critic termed it “intense”. It was his 18th film, and the first one from South Korea to win a major award. It is also South Korea’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2013 Academy Awards.
‘Pieta’, (named after the famous sculpture by Michelangelo), depicts the relationship between a heartless loan shark and a middle-aged woman who claims she is his mother. Although critics say it is less brutal than many of Kim’s other films it still features mutilation, sexual violence and cannibalism as the loan shark feeds the woman his own flesh and rapes her.
What does a cultural critic and professor of literature at Kyunghee University think?
“While he has sought aesthetic aspects before, now there are signs that he’s trying to shift to moral aspects, which Pieta has. I can’t say Pieta is a very well-made movie when I compare it with his previous movie, but it shows that he’s been changed,” says Lee Taek-Gwang.
Whether he has changed or not, Kim will have to adjust from a small niche fan base to international fame, confirming the growing foreign interest in South Korean cinema, the country’s latest cultural export.