Cannes cheers for wrenching Korean 'self-portrait'

14th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Korean film-maker and festival favourite Kim Ki-Duk drew a standing ovation at Cannes for an emotionally raw self-portrait aimed at curing a crippling bout of "director's block".

"Arirang", screening in the Un Certain Regard sidebar section at the world's top cinema showcase, features Kim living in self-imposed exile and grilling himself about his own perceived failings as a director and a human being.

A guilt-wracked Kim, who won prizes at Venice and Berlin for "3-Iron" and "Samaritan Girl", reveals on camera that an actress on his 2008 drama "Dream" was almost killed while filming a scene in which her character hangs herself.

The previously prolific director rescued her but the near fatal accident and a series of mysterious "betrayals" by colleagues send him on a downward spiral of depression and self-doubt.

At the film's rapturously received premiere late Friday, the 50-year-old Kim told the audience he needed to make the film as a kind of self-therapy to find his muse again.

"I was in a sleep and Cannes has woken me up," he said. "This film is a way of asking myself who I am and what cinema is. Thank you so much for paying attention to my film."

"Arirang" is named for a melancholy folk song about the hills and valleys of life, which Kim sings during the film in a series of tearful closeups.

Camped out in a remote cabin without running water, Kim recounts trying to develop a film to star Willem Dafoe as a US soldier who returns to Korea decades after the war to find the body of a man he killed.

But the project quickly runs aground, compounding the humiliation he experiences when a few of his proteges abandon him to go to the "majors" of the South Korean film industry.

"They left to be drawn to capitalism," he laments.

As he wallows in self-pity, another "Kim Ki-Duk" appears on screen in silhouette to harangue him, telling the director that if his own characters, known for their cool determination, saw him "they would feel sorry for you".

So Kim decides to take action, fashioning his own handgun which he takes on a darkly comic rampage.

With a bullet reserved for each of his perceived enemies, Kim drives through Seoul, arrives at a series of buildings, and films the facade while the audience hears a single shot ring out each time.

The final bullet has Kim's own name on it but after the gun is fired off camera, he returns, alive, to sing "Arirang", underscoring that this was just a movie, and his own rebirth as a director.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who personally presented the documentary, expressed relief that Kim had returned to the screen.

"People were terrified that he had disappeared," he said. "Then last winter he re-surfaced with this film. He is like an author who uses his craft to tell about his life, but in this case using the tools of cinema."

© 2011 AFP

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