Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Discovering Korean Cinema: Redefining Storytelling and Kim Ki-duk's 3-Iron

'What is the film that made you want to 
continue exploring Korean cinema?'

I was asked to write an entry for this year's Korean Film Blogathon and this question was posed to me. Truth be told, I had a tough time looking for a solid answer. I won't lie, the first Korean film I remember seeing is 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) which was during my first year in Australia in an all girl's boarding school. I thought about all the other Korean films I have seen since then, and I'm embarrassed that it was my first!

I won't lie, I enjoyed it then and still enjoyed it at KOFFIA 2010

To answer this question, I had to look at more than one film. Each have their own little back story, and are in their own selves very different films. It was simply too difficult to answer a question like this without discussing more than one film, with a bit of my life in-between.

In 2008, I had dropped out halfway through a three year degree in Fine Arts. I needed something new and different. I guessed I needed a new perspective on life. I still wanted to learn, but not in a highly subjective environment found in an art school. In my final semester at uni, I took an introductory course in film theory after seeing Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express (1994). A friend recommended the film to me, and it was then I had rediscovered an old childhood love and passion for movies. The course was a great way to watch films, and punish yourself with copious amounts of reading, if that was your cup of tea. I felt I needed more, so I eventually left uni and went on to a little independent film school to take a Diploma in Screen. It was the change I'd been looking for.

I had just met my current partner in crime and hand Kieran (who is also taking part in this year's Korean Film Blogathon, check his blog 'Tully's Recall' out here) at the Sydney Film Festival while on our volunteer shifts. We shared our love for Wong Kar-wai amongst other things, and he introduced me to the greater side of Asian cinema. Cue: Korean films.

"Have you seen any of Kim Ki-duk's films?" he asked.
"No." I answered.

The next time we met, he gave me a collection of Kim Ki-duk films on DVD. From The Isle (2000) to Breath (2007), it had just about everything from Kim's filmography except for his films prior to The Isle. After much inspection, I decided to watch 3-Iron (2004).

For someone who was relatively new to the depth of ideas in cinema, 3-Iron was a whole new world to me. It moved me. Without understanding the finer details of the film at the time, what struck me the most was its visual imagery and the way Kim Ki-duk empowered the image with a lack of dialogue and incredible minimalist yet evidently classical style.

Kim Ki-duk. I wonder if I had seen any of his other films first, would I have been put off by new Korean cinema?

To say it was different to what I was used to seeing in film is a terrible understatement. 3-Iron was an experience. Love is simple and love needs no words, and Kim has portrayed this so well. I had not seen anything like this film before, and to this day, still haven't found anything to compare it with. The film is arguably a romance in genre, though now I see it as a study of human relationships and love as it forms. It is a human story.

The power of the image speaks for itself

The first thing I noticed in difference between 3-Iron and films I had seen throughout my life as I remember, or at film school, it was how unpredictable the story was. There were situations that I never would have expected to see so vividly (and often in other Korean films, so blatantly) visualised before me in a film. From all the conditioning I had been through with the majority of films in cinemas in any major city comprising of Hollywood 'blockbusters' or box office hits, 3-Iron was at times confronting, but surprising. Uncomfortable, but intriguing.

3-Iron changed my ideas about film and made me think about ways of expressing actuality - that truth and reality is what makes interesting and thought-provoking cinema. It confronts us and makes us vulnerable to its unpredictability. It stays with us and challenges us to rethink what we already know about truth. Such is the power of cinema!

I've come a long way from 200 Pound Beauty to talk about Korean cinema.

Today, Korean film continues to challenge my ideas about film and truth. 3-Iron was simply the beginning of my interest in what Korean cinema has to offer, and so far it has not ever let me down. With this series of entries for the Korean Film Blogathon, I'm hoping they will help me reflect back on my experiences with film as well as show you how Korean cinema shouldn't be overlooked by anyone today.

My next entry will focus on my experience with more commercial Korean films, and how they continue to surprise me. In the meanwhile, you can read my Korean Film Blogathon entry in 2011, 'Korean Cinema: Crossing Borders, Crossing Genres' - a look at genres in Korean cinema.

Raelene Loong

Raelene is the assistant film programmer and coordinator at Cinema On The Park, a free weekly film program organised by the Korean Cultural Office in Sydney. She is also the marketing and PR assistant at the annual Korean Film Festival in Australia

Follow her on Twitter @suupatrout and her blog Cutting Squares.

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