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2005.01.17

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Greg Samsa

As much as Greg Samsa enjoys reading Filmbrain's site, Greg Samsa can't help wondering how much better it would read if Filmbrain didn't refer to himself in the 3rd person. Although Greg Samsa appreciates the device on occasion, for the most part he feels it should be left for Victorian tea parties.

Wayne

I notice that there have been a couple of rejoinders to Tony Rayns' critique, including one by Ben Slater and Tom Vicks. There's also a discussion of Rayns on koreanfilm.org.

Over on ACDrifter.com, Tuna suggests that "3-Iron is crafted in a seemingly flawless fashion with a vague resemblance to Last Life in the Universe and Tsai Ming-Liang’s films, but with an added layer of ingenuity in plot structure" and " When he is able to get his point across with extended periods of silence (save the ambient noises), Ki-duk shows the mastery of a true stage director. It resembles Tsai Ming-Liang’s minimal dialogue in Goodbye Dragon Inn, but with the added incentive of never letting go of the audience. Ki-duk’s lack of dialogue refuses to alienate the viewer as Tsai’s does because he can portray these themes of loneliness and identity with plenty of action in the frame".

James Russell

James Russell actually quite likes Filmbrain's insistence upon the third person and plans to use it more often himself.

Adam

VIVE L'AMOUR is still one of my favorite films. It was one of two films that an ex-gf advised me to see that she was completely spot-on about, the other being Clara Law's AUTUMN MOON. Plus, it's the first film I watched in the lovely Castro Theatre in San Francisco. To play off the cliched line, 'See it w/ no one you love the first time.' It's one of those films that seems most powerful if you see it alone first.

Filmbrain

Wayne -- thanks for the links. I'm really looking forward to it now -- sounds like no other Kim Ki-duk film.

Adam - I couldn't agree more with that final sentence. Shame the gf is an ex -- sounds like she had great taste in film!

Greg - What you fail to realize is that my life is a non-stop Victorian tea party. ;-)

Wayne

If 3-Iron turns out to be as described, would it really be "like no other Kim Ki-duk film"? Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring did not feature too much screaming, fighting and degradation. Perhaps its aesthetic has something in common with 3-Iron?

Filmbrain

Well...SSFW&S was about monks, but even though it was quiet, it had that unmistakably Kim passion to it. Weren't characters always giving in to their base desires?

I don't agree with the statement about Tsai alienating the viewer, and I'm curious to see what Tuna means about 'action in the frame'. Tsai and Kim are apples and oranges to me anyway. They are both good at what they do, but they are doing very different things.

Andrew

I think Rayns has a point. Kim Ki-duk is not the Korean Bertulucci, (sic) as many Korean film fetishists proclaim. He is the Korean Abel Ferarra. His movies are powerful. They go to unpleasant places. And they are a jumble. His plots, like that of many, many (most?)Korean movies, frequently lapse into contrivance as bad as any Hollywood fare.

Exhibit A: Who bought the ending scene of Birdcage when the respectable girl switched places with the prostitute?

Exhibit B: Who didn't think the dueling fishhookings in the Isle were more silly than shocking?

Exhibit C: Who didn't think the eye pokings in Address Unknown were freshman creative writing survey worthy symbols?

All this is not to say that I would ever dream of missing a Kim Ki-Duk movie. I love Kim Ki-duk. I love Henry Miller. I love Peckinpau (sic). These times need Kim Ki-duk. His films are original, subversive and loaded with sex. What more could you ask for? Nothing wrong with admitting they often drift from shock to schlock.

Still, give Rayns a break. The emperor does have clothes. But they are threadbare in spots.

Rayns is probably unfair to accuse Kim of being a kind of art house opportunist. There are a million other easier, far more profitable ways he could have sold out if he were not in it for the art first and the other stuff second.

Wayne

In reply to Filmbrain, I'm not sure its right to say that the characters in, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring were "always giving in to their base desires", although it's been a while since I saw the film so perhaps my memory is letting me down here. Of course, there were occasional lapses into appetite, but could one not also argue that the characters in Tsai's film are equally motivated by somewhat unexalted cravings (for example the father and son's rather reified cruising in Vive L'Amour) and the frequent sullen eating, drinking and masturbation throughout his films?

Like you, "I don't agree with the statement about Tsai alienating the viewer". Writing in Cinema Scope a few years ago, David Walsh said:

"One of the pressing issues of our day is the need to read emotional life historically. That is to say, to put it bluntly, how do we account for the extraordinary unhappiness, confusion, and sense that something is absent from life afflicting great numbers of people (leaving aside, of course, those who are feeding at the stock market trough or its overflow, and whose existence is its own punishment)?"

I regard Tsai as one of the contemporary directors who provides just such an analysis of contemporary alienation, not necessarily by provided a causal analysis by reference to past events, but rather by his unflinching depiction of the hollowness of contemporary existence and its roots in the dismal labour and consumption of an hegomenic and destructive capitalism. I don't doubt some viewers find this alienating, but such alienation is not inherent in the films themselves. The possibility of empathising with his characters and finding connections between their miseries and ours is always available to those prepared to discard their illusions.

By contrast, I am far from sure that Kim offers the same kind of social critique. He may put some of the decay of our world on screen but he often seems more than half in love with the viciousness and callousness he reveals.


Filmbrain

Andrew - Your assessment of Kim as the Korean Ferrara is pretty spot on.

Though some of his criticism are valid, he is a bit presumptuous when it comes to interpreting why it is people like his films, as is his rationale for why Kim makes the films he does.

The last third of the essay, where he speaks of the "blind spot that some Westerners have for East Asian films" and how our "bullshit detectors stop working" is itself bullshit. And you can just hear Rayns' bitterness when he writes about Spike Lee's comment.

Filmbrain

Wayne - that's a very interesting analysis of Tsai's characters. (I for one have never had difficulty empathizing with them.) However, would you say that their sense of alienation is always reaction to the elements you list above? For example, I'm thinking of the mother in What Time Is It There? -- isn't she just a victim of grief over the death of her husband? Or would you read something deeper into her behavior after her husband's death? (The fish, the blocking out of the outside world, etc.) Does destructive capitalism play a part, or is it just loneliness?

I agree with you about Kim as well -- it comes off as a case of arrested development at times with him, and his viciousness is rooted in something far different than, say, Lars von Trier's.

Wayne

Filmbrain - I agree with you that the alienation of Tsai's characters is not simply a reaction to the rather general socio-economic factors I've mentioned. Something more specific or interpersonal may be the proximate cause of a character's distress. However, Tsai's films strike me as firmly set within a wider environment of an alienated society, within which the reactions of the individual protagonists take particular form and meaning. Of course, a bereavement will typically cause some measure of grief, but how that grief unfolds in a Tsai film (or elsewhere) surely depends on the social cicumstances in which it occurs. In Tsai's films, perhaps, we can see social misery breeding, sustaining or aggravating individual misery.

That said, I suspect that in addition to the social dimension of Tsai's films, it is plausible to see a broader, tragic conception of the human condition informing them; a sense of "a whole pile of shit...coming from the cosmos", to borrow Béla Tarr's phrase.

Following a link from GreenCine Daily, I see that the Berlin International Film Festival has given some details of Tsai's new film:

"Director Tsai Ming-Liang, whose He Liu (The River) ran in the Competition in 1997, once more takes up the topic of alienation and isolation in Tian bian yi duo yun (The Wayward Cloud), a Taiwanese-Chinese-French co-production. Colourful musical scenes are juxtaposed with explicit sex scenes. Schiang Chyi Chen, Kang Sheng Lee, Vincent Wang and Yi Ching Lu co-star in this world premiere."

bluebeardnz

I have a love-hate relationship with Kim Ki-Duk's films that, thankfully, can be conveniently summed up like this:

His last three films (3-IRON, SAMARIA, SSFWAS) are varying shades of excellent, really diving into spirituality and what it means for the aliwnated lives we lead.

His three films before that (BAD GUY, ADDRESS UNKNOWN, THE COAST GUARD) are irredeemable crap, mainly I think because Kim thinks he has something to say about sexual politics, and yet the only way he knows how to say it is by relating everything sexual to something violent (one of the tiredest cliches around), and then lets those violent impulses totally dominate the the film to the exclusion of everything else, making it degenerate into some sort of bloody pantomine where the actors are totally lost at sea.

He still hasn't convinced me that he knows how to write female characters in the slightest (he only seems able to conjure madwomen or whores - THE COAST GUARD, memorably, takes a little departure and has the lead female character who is BOTH both a madwoman and a whore). 3-IRON is a step in the right direction, though he'll have to give me a female character and put words in her mouth at the same time for me to truly give him a pass.

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