During the production of Ki Duk Kim’s 2007 title “Breath” an actress was almost killed due to the filming of a scene in which the character commits suicide. Even though she survived the ordeal, it left an impact on the director who would go on to later renounce the film industry and distance himself from modern society.
Fast forward to 2012 and we have Arirang, a title that is equal parts documentary and abstract drama. Directed and starring renowned filmmaker Ki Duk Kim, Arirang presents us with a video diary of the events that took place when the outspoken filmmaker exiled himself from society to a shanty hut in the South Korean outback. Filmed over an unspecified period of time Arirang is in no rush to tell a story as we watch the director wake up, cook breakfast, eat breakfast, whittle something out of wood, look pensive, sob uncontrollably whilst watching films in a tent and play with a cat. Interspersed between these often mundane tasks we listen to the director as he laments past life decisions and damns his contemporaries in privately recorded confessions. These scenes play out in overtly dramatic and unscripted monologues as the director interviews himself in sequences that play out like crude versions of that bit in Lord Of The Rings. it is testament to Kim’s skill as a director that these often protracted and meandering scenes are rarely boring and instead provide an insight into the man’s troubled psyche. One stand out sequence in particular revolves around an interview in which the director talks to his own shadow.
As Kim begins to sober up and watch back the footage, we witness his reactions to these alcohol fuelled rants as he begins to make plans for his eventual come back in to society. When the drunken Kim Ki Duk talks he is bitter narcissist that’s not only fiercely proud of his achievements but is all too willing to “dish the dirt” on his contemporaries. Ki Duk Kim will often draw a line in the sand as he is all too willing to present himself as an unreliable narrator frequently contradicting past statements in a desperate ploy to win the audiences approval. Many will watch this film and wonder if it’s even appropriate to release footage of a man clearly in meltdown whilst others may question why anyone in their right mind would want to watch a hermit drunkenly rant about glory days gone by.
Suffice it to say, Ki duk Kim had complete creative control over this project yet still chose to present him self in a wholly unlikeable manner. A certain level of praise must be given to his unwavering endurance in presenting himself honestly and unfiltered regardless of the damage it would cause to his own public image. Whilst it’s difficult to recommend Arirang as an enjoyable or even worthwhile piece of cinema it is a title that is deeply personal to the director and acts as a fantastic chronicle of an episode in the life of a troubled artist. whilst the title is as difficult to digest as it is to explain, Arirang is car crash cinema at it’s finest painting a portrait of a man that appears to be as withered and frayed as the skin on his heels.