Arirang (2011)


Director:  Kim Ki-duk
Plot:  Documentary on director Kim Ki-Duk looking back at his film career.

Genre:  Documentary / Drama
Awards:  Won Un Certain Regard (Cannes).
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  PG13

Director Kim Ki-duk breaks into a traditional Korean folk song halfway through Arirang, singing empathetically as he sits alone in a tent in his old house, somewhere in the cold mountains of his birthplace. 

He calls himself a world famous director, bringing national pride whenever he wins major awards at prestigious international film festivals.  He laments the fact that most of his features have been box-office failures in South Korea, yet critics love his raw and bold works of art.  In Arirang, Kim points the camera at himself as he shares his thoughts about filmmaking and being a film director. 

Incredibly prolific with fifteen features made in twelve years, Kim suffered from an artistic and deeply personal crisis when an actress was nearly hung to death whilst shooting a scene in Dream (2008). 

It was a traumatic experience for him, and he was further affected by news that two of his directing assistants who had been understudying him for a few years left to sign with major production companies after milking all the knowledge and skills from him.  The betrayal and trauma shattered Kim, and he couldn't make another film. 

Arirang works as a confession of sorts, recorded on digital camera.  It is powerful at times, with scenes of real emotions, or are they not?  That is for the viewer to contemplate.  Whether the ‘documentary’ is self-indulgently staged with Kim flexing his acting powers (and of him as a director directing himself), or one made genuinely from the heart, it is hard to argue that Arirang works at some human level in a way that elicits sympathy for a tortured soul. 

Strictly for Kim Ki-duk fans and discerning cinephiles only, this Cannes’ Un Certain Regard award winner can be a tough (read: boring) one to sit through, and at more than 100 minutes, it can be long.

Arirang reminds of Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film (2011), a documentary that the Iranian filmmaker shot while under house arrest.  But unlike Panahi’s film, there is no political statement of intent in Arirang

Instead, Kim’s work is best described as a self portrait as the director vents his anger, frustration and sadness.  People do that on blogs, while some do that on vlogs.  This is a flog.  The final fifteen minutes are quite intense, but does he find a silver lining?  Kim would go on to win the Golden Lion at Venice for his next feature, Pieta (2012).

Verdict:  Kim Ki-duk points the camera at himself in this self-reflexive 'documentary' as he reveals his thoughts about filmmaking while baring his inner soul in the process.

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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