This was originally posted on Wonders in the Dark.
by Jaime Grijalba.
(South Korea, 104 min)
It’s hard to confront a director as controversial as Kim Ki-duk, specially when you have only heard about his controversial nature and have to judge it in some way based on the only movie you’ve seen of him: his latest. I know I should’ve seen some other films by this famous korean director before, but they have eluded me for the longest time, even though most people would think the contrary after seeing my interest in asian filmmaking in general, and korean culture in particular, he is a director that is usually mentioned when the korean industry is being talked about, specially since he seems to be on the outside making festival-pleasing movies that usually get selected to play in competition and/or usually win some prizes, as it’s been the case with his two past films. There’s even been some controversy regarding his last win, for the film that has summoned us today, because it was in competition in the Venice International Film Festival, and the Golden Lion was to be given to ‘The Master’ (2012), but at the last moment it was given to the south korean film… was it worthy of the prize given? I don’t know, because I haven’t seen ‘The Master’ yet (damn you, international distributors), but at least the word was flowing and Arirang was sung, and so all the people in the world were actually saying how Tom Cruise was involved in the final “snub” given to the P.T. Anderson film. Anyway, the film has arrived at some doorsteps, in this case mine, and I’ve been able to give it a look to see how actually controversial the film is, and given the fuzz that was out on how this was undeserving… I really can’t see why! I’t s a well done piece of filmmaking that manages to make you cringe, feel deep emotions and wonder all the time if this is how we actually act as human beings, or maybe this is being filmed in another planet, but that is just false hope, you know, we are indecent human beings with disgusting reactions, and that’s how we deserve to die. Kim Ki-duk, everyone, Kim Ki-duk.When you hear about Ki-duk’s films two things stand out about them (or more like, that’s the two things that most people care about in his films and decide to point out): there is misogynism, and there’s animal abuse. Now, here we get our own share of both trends or artistic preferences in our first half hour of the film, and I feel, in some way, satisfied to see how international criticism and overall condemnation from critics and normal moviegoers have not made Kim reflect or change what he thinks is his own motif or artistic inclination, and here I’m not saying that these specific ones are good or bad, but it is valuable for an auteur (like Kim Ki-duk surely is) to have their own choices and to not kneel down under the pressure of the audience, artistic integrity above all, I’d say. Our main character is unlikeable as hell, as we start the film we see him recovering a debt from a loan, he is a loan shark, and one of the meanest, he resorts to mangling and making the people who owe him crippled so that he can reclaim a health insurance he asks from people whenever they ask for a loan. The thing is, someone asks for a loan to this shifty office of sorts, if the debt (with outrageous interests) is not paid in time, it’s mangling time, where our main guy goes to the factory or business where these people work and uses their implements to perforate their arms, hands or legs, or just leads them to an abandoned building so he can throw them from the fourth story, not enough to kill them but yes to break their bones forever. All of this is routine to him, as we can see in the incredible performance given here, with his dead eyes and his always staring stance, that is until he meets a woman that says is his mother… obviously he’s not happy about it, she had supposedly abandoned him when he was just a baby, and he is having a hard time accepting her appearance, even though with time we get to know how much he really needs her.
The performance from the mother character is as perfect as the one from our loan shark, it’s one that shatters hearts and is filled with restrained and contained emotion, she is shortlisted in my personal awards in the best supporting actress category, is one that you can’t but feel real in every moment, and when the plot progresses, the feelings involved are even deeper and you start to learn about her complex character and her own goals towards her abandoned son and the dangerous world that sorrounds her. The impact of the life with his mother is noticeable inmediatly in the daily life of this loan shark, what makes him, in the end, quit the hellish job in which he has been living for the past years, because he can’t take it anymore, he can’t see families being destroyed anymore, those that would generate another emotionless prick that destroys even more lifes in the future. It is interesting how the director decides to show us slowly and in a simplistic manner how the characters evolve and change as the plot progresses, it is truly a greatly constructed movie that themes around big ideas that move the film forward visually and script-wise. The theme of families, broken relationships, money and the economical ways of low-middle classes to turn their miseries upside down, and how close they are from being completely broke, and even if its not the main issue of the film, one can relate and connect the dots presented through the characters and realize the modern state of today’s families in ultra-urbanized countries such as South Korea. A great and complex film that twists around with its themes and plot and that makes a worthy addition of a list of the best works of 2012.