Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Beyond "Extreme": Rereading Kim Ki-Duk's Cinema of Ressentiment

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Beyond "Extreme": Rereading Kim Ki-Duk's Cinema of Ressentiment

Article excerpt

BEGINNING IN THE 1950S AND 60S, the films of Kurosawa Akira, Ozu Yasujiro, and Mizoguchi Kenji entered the Western canon of East Asian cinema under the various rubrics associated with auteurism and art cinema. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Fifth-Generation Chinese filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige rose to international fame for their exotic, ethnographic films, sparking critical debates about self-orientalism, among other things (Chow 142-72). In recent years, however, the dominant mode of East Asian canon-formations in the West appears to have shifted into an area that can be (and has been) described as "extreme cinema."1 Under this blood-soaked bannerare assembled some of the most iconoclastic auteurs in East Asia, including Fruit Chan, the Pang Brothers, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Miike Takashi, Kitano Takeshi, Park Chan-wook [Pak Ch'an-uk], and Kim Ki-duk [Kim Ki-dok], who are all enjoying a spike in international recognition and cult fandom, due in part to the visceral nature of their disturbing yet engrossing films, which frequently shuttle between tranquility and terror, the sublime and the grotesque.

According to one anonymous contributor to Wikipedia, "Extreme cinema is a term typically used to describe films containing violence, gore, and sex of an extreme nature. In recent years, the term has been a popular word to describe many of the violent films coming out of Asia (particularly Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea)." The online encyclopedia entry lists the names of four East Asian directors (Miike Takashi, Park Chan-wook, Tsukamoto Shinya, and Kim Ki-duk) as examples of "the more notorious 'extreme' filmmakers" ("Extreme Cinema"). Alongside Park Chan-wook, famous for his "vengeance trilogy" of films (Poksu nun na Hi köt [Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance] [2002], Oldboy [2003], and Ch'ingölhan Kûmjassi [Lady Vengeance] [2005]), Kim Ki-duk is arguably the most acclaimed Korean auteur in the Western world. An unprecedented ten of Kim's fifteen feature-length motion pictures are currently available in the US home video market.2 Among these thematically interrelated yet stylistically disparate films, including Söm [The Isle] (2000), Shilje sanghwang [Real Fiction] (2000), Nappun namja [Bad Guy] (2001), and Haeansön [The Coast Guard] (2002), his awardwinning Buddhist fable Pom yôrûm kaúl kyöul kurigo pom [Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . and Spring] (2003) became an international art-house hit, breaking all previous box-office records of South Korean films receiving theatrical distribution in the United States and Europe.3 Around the time of this film's US release (beginning in April of 2004), Kim successfully made his way into Western critics' East Asian film canons by winning two prestigious Best Director awards from the Berlin and Venice International Film Festivals, for Samaria [Samaritan Girl] (2004) and PIn ip [3-lron] (2004), respectively. As the mother of all tributes to a maverick filmmaker whose "sensuous, sensational imagery and wild and haunting narratives" have enthralled film festival juries and extreme cinema aficionados around the world, the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a then-complete retrospective of Kim's fourteen films between 23 April and 8 May 2008 (MoMA Exhibitions 2008).4

Regardless of the ceaseless controversy surrounding Kim Ki-duk both at home and abroad, MoMA's endorsement and showcasing of his entire oeuvre- the first of its kind granted to a Korean filmmaker5- demonstrates that Korean cinema can now boast its own Kurosawa Akira, its own Zhang Yimou, its own visionary auteur whose border-crossing reputation promises to boost the status of the nation's earlier and future cultural productions in the global arena.6 Such rhetorical maneuvers by critics may prove to be problematic, however, given that the pigeonholing of Kim as a Korean Kurosawa or Zhang- and, by extension, the labeling of Korean cinema as something derivative (or, in the words of Anthony C. Y. Leong, "the New Hong Kong")7- has the potential to reproduce dominant ideological positions vis-à-vis the abstracted Asian other, with an attendant risk of rendering diverse cultural traditions as interchangeable elements within a monolithically conceived canon endorsed by Western scholars and Euro-American institutions. …

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