Browsing: Spotlight on Contemporary Korean Cinema


In 2011, Kim Ki-duk returned to the world of film after a two-year hiatus by putting two new films on the international film festival circuit: his first ever documentary film Arirang and his seventeenth film Amen. Over and above the context of the hiatus, Arirang is a watershed moment in Kim’s filmography. Not only does Arirang continue the principal themes and elements of his narrative features and arguably constitute a kind of summation of his cinema up to now, it also presents Kim’s most intense polemical engagement with the issues of media, representation, the self, and the artist precisely through himself as the sole author and subject simultaneously.

Cinema of Embodied Unpleasures

From 1996 to 2008, filmmaker Kim Ki-duk produced an astounding output of fifteen feature films, averaging at times two films per year. Perhaps what is even more surprising is that unlike other filmmakers who emerged in the mid-1990s, Kim did not receive any formal training in filmmaking. But a background in visual arts he has, through his studies of fine art in France for three years at the beginning of the 1990s. Following that experience, he won several screenplay awards upon his return to South Korea, including his first-place submission to the Korean Film Council’s screenwriting contest in 1995. These prizes paved the way for his filmmaking debut a year later with Crocodile. Since then, this former factory worker, ex-marine, and priest-in-training never once looked back and proceeded to build a highly provocative, often controversial, and memorable filmography through a minimalist method of low-budget independent filmmaking. With his persistent themes of self-abnegation, metaphysical longing and interrogation, torture, trauma, isolation, physical and metaphorical journey, and the play between reality and fantasy, Kim has carved a place for himself within contemporary Korean cinema as well as world cinema.

Spotlight on Contemporary Korean Cinema

Strategically coinciding with the American Film Market and AFI Fest this year, the Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles (KOFFLA) organized a three-day spotlight on contemporary Korean cinema, sponsored by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). The spotlight consisted of a retrospective of young filmmaker-on-the-rise Jang Hun, who now has three feature films under his belt; two debut feature films, Ordinary Days (2010, Inan) and Re-encounter (2010, Min Yong-geun); and one of Lee Chang-dong’s more recent films, the award-winning Secret Sunshine (2007). In a sense, KOFFLA’s Korean cinema spotlight is a much welcome continuation of AFI Fest’s spotlight on Korean cinema last year and a much-needed Asian cinema sidebar missing in this year’s AFI Fest.