From a feminist perspective, it is indeed problematic that the male-focalized class warfare is waged over the bodies of middle-class women in such films as Crocodile, Bad Guy, and 3-Iron. However, Kim’s oeuvre, which constitutes a visceral, bottom-to-top critique of social stratification in South Korea, cannot be fully grasped from a feminist perspective alone.
This is an excerpt from an article by Hye Seung Chung from the Journal of Film and Video titled Beyond “Extreme”: Rereading Kim Ki-duk’s Cinema of Ressentiment, which I found incredibly fascinating. Unfortunately, I can’t really argue much about Ki-duk’s films, having only recently watched Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring. Having only seen this particular Kim Ki-duk film, I can’t speak at all to his extreme imagery of violence, and the controversy surrounding what many call his misogynistic films. Spring is a fairly slow, tame film, with the exception of its sex scene and the violence that takes place off camera.
Chung’s piece is largely a defense of Ki-duk’s films, discussing the inherent issue of discussing Korean cinema through the perspective of Western audiences (which is how almost all national cinemas are discussed). Largely, she looks to Ki-duk’s personal background and experiences, while constantly citing him as an Auteur (and discussing his films as such), in order to defend and reinterpret the violent imagery in his films.
This brings me to a question I frequently have: In the case of such violent imagery, should it matter who is creating the images? How important is this? Can Auteurism be used as a way to defend offensive material? I ask this because knowing Ki-duk’s background is almost certainly priviledged information: while access to the internet makes such information more accessible, it is still not universal knowledge when viewing a film. Does knowing a director’s background help understand all film? Does it make graphic depictions of violence and assault acceptable?
Speaking about film itself, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with auteur studies. Focusing on one individual who helped create a film, when there are typically many many more people involved, seems a little unfair and reductive.
The issue of the violence in Ki-duk’s films being too intense for middle class South Koreans, and arguing that such “turning away” from his films is turning away to the struggles of alienated citizens in an unfair society, is an interesting one. And, in the end, perhaps this comes down to how responsible filmmakers should be for understanding what an audience can handle-perhaps this truthfully isn’t important at all. It’s something that I personally struggle with, so I find the discussion compelling.
But, again, considering I know very little about Kim Ki-duk’s films, I’d love to hear from others on this subject.
“Any revolutionary must challenge the depiction of reality; it is not enough to discuss the oppression of women within the text of the film: the language of the cinema/depiction of reality must also be interrogated, so that a break between ideology and text is affected.”—Claire Johnston (Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-garde Cinema, 1943-1971 by Lauren Rabinovitz)