Ki-duk Kim (Korea, 1960)
studied and worked as a street painter
Crocodile (1996) is the powerful and brutal psychological portrait of a sociopath.
Wild Animals (1997) is set among Korean immigrants in Europe,
and Birdcage Inn (1998) deals with prostitution.
Real Fiction (2000), shot in real time
in different locations (with ten 35mm cameras and 10 digicams),
is superficially a revenge movie but in practice a hallucinated puzzle.
Seom/ Isle (2000) is a minor film, an artsy apologue
that mixes horror scenes and comic scenes towards a
macabre drama of jealousy and loneliness.
The mute girl Hee-jin ferries a young man, Hyun-shik,
to a small cottage floating in the middle of a lake.
We see that he has a gun.
Well into the night the girl keeps rowing around to bring supplies to the men living in the floating cottage. It's her lake resort and her customers are fishermen.
She lives a solitary, silent and simple life.
When a customer makes fun of her, she takes her revenge at night throwing him
into the water.
Hyun-shik has a nightmare of being murdered while having sex with a woman. He pulls out his gun and thinks of killing himself, but
Hee-jin stops him by throwing an object at him in the dark.
During the day she stares at him from a distance.
She uses a mirror to harass him with light in his eye.
Two customers hire two prostitutes and Hee-jin ferries them to their floating cottage.
She rows to Hyun-shik's cottage and seems to offer herself to him but, when he
starts undressing her, she rebels and throws him in the water.
Then she hires a prostitute and ferries her to her cottage.
He refuses to have sex with her.
Instead he builds a miniature bicycle out of a metal wire.
This finally turns him on but just then her pimp shows up angry that she's spending too much time with this customer.
A hippy comes to stay for a month and she has sex with him.
The prostitute returns to see Hyun-shik just as a friend and this time he
has sex with her.
Hee-jin spies as they are having sex.
Hyun-shik sees her but continues anyway.
In the morning Hee-jin picks up the prostitute but is living. After harassing her, she returns to Hyun-shik's cabin and bits his lip like a wild beast.
Back home she cries alone.
Two cops come to inspect the cabins. We see that Hyun-shik is scared and hides.
However, they arrest the hippy who tries to escape.
Hyun-shik watches the scene and then tries to kill himself in a gruesome manner.
Hee-jin finds him agonizing on the floor, hides him under the cabin, and, once
the cops are gone, saves his life (pulling out fish hooks from his throat).
While he is still in pain, she gets on top of him and has sex with him.
When the prostitute returns again to see Hyun-shik,
Hee-jin ferry her to the wrong cabin, ties and gags her, and then tows the
floating cabin to a remote part of the lake.
Then Hee-jin rows to Hyun-shik's cabin and has sex with him.
Meanwhile, the prostitute struggles to free herself and falls in the water with her hands tied behind her back, and drowns.
The following day Hee-jin finds her dead and sinks her to the floor of the like tied to the prostitute's own motorcycle.
Her pimp looks for her, thinking that she must be with Hyun-shik. However,
this time Hyun-shik attacks him and throws him into the lake.
He struggles to stay afloat and eventually drowns. Then
Hee-jin emerges from the water: she killed him.
Hee-jin calmly ties a heavy object to the corpse and sinks it into the lake.
Hyun-shik doesn't seem shocked but he soon realizes that he is prisoner in the lake:
Hee-jin has the only boat and she refuses to ferry him to land.
When he tries to escape swimming, he almost drowns and
she uses a fishing rod to save him.
He beats her up and then rapes her. Then starts crying aloud.
The following morning he takes the boat and rows away leaving her in the cabin.
Hee-jin stuffs the fish hooks of the fishing rod into her vagina and, bleeding from her vagina, she drops in the water to drown.
Hyun-shik rows back and uses the fishing rod to fish her back.
This time it's him who has to painfully extract one by one the fishing hooks.
We then see them hugging romantically on the floating cabin.
A new customer arrives with a young girl, presumably a prostitute.
He accidentally drops his gold watch in the lake and hires divers to retrieve
it. They will find the dead bodies, so
Hee-jin and Hee-jin calmly release the floating cabin and drift away,
abandoning the resort.
The film then shows the cabin floating away, then
Hyun-shik swimming alone to a tiny island of tall reeds, then
Hee-jin lying naked in the boat, either dead or asleep.
Suchwiin Bulmyeong/ Address Unknown (2001) is a realistic drama.
Nabbeun Namja/ Bad Guy (2001)
Haeanseon/ The Coast Guard (2002)
Bom Yeoreum Gaeul Gyeoul Geurigo Bom/ Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring (2003) is a zen parable, a sort of cinematic koan made of many cinematic koans.
A gate opens and reveals a small building in the middle of a quiet pond,
surrounded by green hills. A middle-aged monk is praying. He wakes up a
child, who is his pupil and his only company. He cleans the floors and then
set out with the child to go look for herbs. They row to shore and the child
climbs a giant Buddha head to look at the pond. Left alone, the boy
child plays with animals around the lake. His masters watches over him as
the child tortures a fish, a snake and a frog, tying a stone to them so that
they cannot move anymore. At night, the master ties a stone to the back
of the child who is asleep, and in the morning he tells the child to go
and free the animals. The child finds that two of the animals are dead
and cries. The master tells him that his heart will carry their stones for
the rest of his life.
Summer. The gate opens. The boy is now a strong young man. He is watching
the misty view from the giant Buddha head when he sees two females approaching
on the trail. The mother is taking her shy daughter to the master because
the girl is ill. The mother leaves the girl with the master. The boy is
disturbed by the young attractive girl. His instinct awakes when he sees
her undressing. He tries to touch her while she's sleeping. He tries in vain
to quell his lust. Eventually, they make love. They make love even in
the temple, when the master is asleep. The sex heals her. One morning he finds
them sleeping naked in the boat. The boy asks for forgiveness, but the master
says that it was the right medicine for the girl. Except that now the girl
has to go back to her life. But the boy is really in love, and can't live
without her. So one night he takes a small Buddha statue from the temple
and leaves the master.
Autumn. The master sees an article in an old newspaper: the boy has killed his
wife and has escaped. Sure enough, he shows up, angry and violent, but also
brings back the Buddha statue. He killed
her because she cheated on him. He can't understand why she betrayed him.
He is so desperate that he even tries to kill himself. The master beats
him for trying to kill himself, not for killing her. Then the master writes
a long series of characters on the floor and asks the youth to carve them
into the wood: it will help quell the anger. As the young man is at work,
two police officers arrive with a warrant to arrest him. The young man
is ready to fight, but the master tells him to continue his work.
The master asks the police officers to allow him to finish the carving:
it will take the whole night. The whole night the young man works carving
the characters into the wood of the floor. The police officers become
supportive: one holds the candle for him, and another one lays a jacket on
him when, having completed his work, he falls asleep. In the morning the
master begins painting the characters, and even the police officers help
them paint. When the work is completed, the police officers take the
youth away, and they don't need to use any force: his anger is gone.
The master waves goodbye (the boat doesn't move until the youth turns
and responds). Then he prepares a pire on the boat and sets himself
to fire. As his body is engulfed by the flames, a water snakes crawl
on the floor of the monastery and into the temple (his reincarnation?)
Winter. The gate opens to reveal a winter landscape. The lake is ice,
the temple is covered with snow. Only the snake lives in the temple.
A man comes and takes possession of the temple: obviously, he has been released
from jail and has come to take his master's place. He digs up from the ice
of the lake the ashes of his master and builds a Buddha of ice to hold them.
Then he restores the place and becomes the new master. A mother (whose head
is covered) brings a child to the monastery and leaves at night after
praying. She stumbles into a hole and drowns. In the morning, the man
finds her corpse. He uncovers her face and is shocked (another
of his?) He ties a huge stone at his back (like the animals he used to
torture) and carries a Buddha statue to the top of the mountain. He reaches
the top as the sun rises and the temple appears in the middle of the lake.
The gate opens. It is spring: the ice has melted. The new master and the child
now have a turtle. The child plays with the turtle and tortures it...
Red Family (2003)
Bin-jip/3-Iron (2004) is three films into one: first a realistic
depiction of a lonely boy in alienating suburbia; then a
melancholy Chaplin-ian comedy in which two lonely souls fall in love and
flee together; then a horror story imbued with magical realism.
The protagonist is silent and later even invisible. He lives in other people's
homes and briefly tries to live their lives but he is
not a thief: he is simply a homeless person who is good at breaking into
He literally makes their homes his because he even washes the floors
(or does so as repayment).
It's a game of adopted identities. We don't really know what this boy likes,
what his hobbies and interests are.
The female protagonist, on the other hand, has the best of homes, but is
unhappier than him because she had to pay a price for that home, the price
of an abusive husband.
Posters of her appear over and over again, to emphasize that she is famous
and the boy is poor, she is somebody and he is nobody.
When she meets him, however,
she can finally communicate with someone who, like her, has chosen not to speak.
At the end she's the only one who can see Tae-suk: he cannot free her but she
can return to her old life imagining that he's with her all the time.
A young man on a motorbike posts fast-food fliers on the doors of apartments
and houses. His motorbike obstracts a businessman who is trying to get out
of his garage. The young man seems to live alone in the room of an average
apartment. He takes pictures of himself and of the furniture. Then the door
opens nd a family enters. They are coming back from a trip and the wife is
exhausted and angry at her husband. We realize that the young man is nowhere
to be found anymore. He now enters a mansion that appears to be deserted
and whose doors have been left open. He cooks, cleans, washes clothes.
He doesn't realize that a young woman is spying on him. He even
takes a bath, and still doesn't see her. Her angry husband
keeps calling and leaving messages on the answering machine.
The young man slips into her bed and masturbates watching pictures of her:
she must be a fashion model because there are posters on the walls.
She opens the door of the bedroom and the young man, startled,
finally sees her and leaves the house. She doesn't say a word, he doesn't
say a word. Bruises on her right cheek reveal that she's a battered wife.
She finally picks up the phone and simply screams at her husband.
The young man leaves on his motorbike but then comes back.
She's crying in the bathtub. Her husband comes home and has a violent
argument with her.
The young man listens unseen.
The husband beats the woman because she doesn't want to make love to him.
The young man makes himself visible playing golf outside. The businessman
rushes outside to face the intruder and calls the police
The young man aims golf balls at his genitals and the man collapses to the
ground. She stares silently from inside.
The young man turns on his motorcycle and waits.
The girl walks out of the house and gets on the back seat. They leave together.
Tae-suk, the lonely boy, and Sun-hwa, the battered wife, spend hours at a
park, practising shooting golf balls across the highway to office buildings.
Not a word is exchanged. She helps him deliver fliers. Later they
walk into an apartment that has pictures of her.
Now she cleans the bathroom, washes clothes, just like he did in the previous
In the morning he serves her breakfast.
Not a word is exchanged. The apartment belongs to a boxer.
Tae-suk takes pictures of himself in front of a poster of him.
It becomes apparent that this young man is homeless and simply stays in
any place that he knows to be temporarily empty because the family did not
pick up the flier. He doesn't steal anything and even cleans up the place.
He only takes pictures of himself in each place that he "borrows" for a night.
This time the trick doesn't work. The family comes back and finds the odd
couple asleep in their bed. The boxer beats up Tae-suk. His wife confirms that
nothing has been stolen.
During the day Tae-suk practises again with golf balls but this time one
accidentally breaks the windshield of a car and blinds the passenger.
He cries, ashamed.
Again, she helps him distribute leaflets and then they
breaks into another home. They kiss but not a word is exchanged.
Eventually they enter a place where the flyer has not been picked up for
days but the occupant is there, except that he is dead, lying on the floor
next to his dog.
Tae-suk and Sun-hwa wrap up the body respectfully and give it a proper
burial. Then they install themselves in his apartment.
They try to call the relatives but they are out on vacation.
The relatives later realize that there was a call from that place and
call to find out if the old man is ok. This time
Tae-suk and Sun-hwa don't pick up. Therefore the relatives rush to the
building and enter the apartment. Finding the two intruders and not their
father, they call the police. Arrested,
Tae-suk and Sun-hwa still refuse to talk.
The police detective sees in Tae-suk's camera that he broke into other homes
The detective beats him up until he somehow
(we don't hear it)
reveals what he did with the dead man's body.
The police dig up the body in front of the distraught relatives.
They all think that Tae-suk killed the old man, but soon it becomes clear
that nothing was stolen, the man died of lung cancer, and the intruders took
good care both of the corpse and of the apartment.
The police find out who she is and calls her husband at the mansion.
The husband who grabs two golf balls before heading for the police station.
The woman follows her husband without saying a word. The husband throws the
golf balls at Tae-suk but missing him.
Back in the mansion Sun-hwa refuses to talk to her husband and refuses to
be touched. He is bitter than she doesn't want him and that she had sex with
Tae-suk. He bribes the police chief to deliver the boy handcuffed in a
deserted location and then proceeds to shoot golf balls at him. Tae-suk
cannot defend himself. When the jealous husband leaves and the chief approaches
to mock him, Tae-suk tries to strangle him. Thus he
ends up in jail. Here he begins an odd game with the guard on patrol:
he hides in more and more sophisticated manners, forcing the guard to enter
the cell. Each time the guard beats him more furiously.
And each time he smiles at the guard.
Apparently Tae-suk has Buddhist superpowers and can climb like a spider.
Sun-hwa is devastated. She walks into one of the homes that they had broken
into and just lies down on the couch and sleeps,
while the loving couple stares at her.
Later Sun-hwa thanks them and walks away.
Tae-suk hides one more time and this time he
beats up the guard who barely has time to lock the door. Tae-suk is taken
away by the guards and it is not clear whether to be punished or to be released.
Someone attacks the detective with golf balls in an underground parking garage.
The phone of businessman rings: the police inform him that Tae-suk
is out of prison (released or escaped?)
Now a ghost begins to wander around the houses where Tae-suk stayed with
Sun-hwa: the boxer's, the loving couple's, the dead man's, etc.
The owners can sense his presence but cannot see him.
Finally at night the ghost enters the mansion of the businessman.
Like all the others he too sense his presence.
Tae-suk appears behind her and she finally speaks: "I love you". Her husband
thinks she said it to him, when in fact she's speaking and smiling to the
ghost of Tae-suk behind him.
Sun-hwa even kisses Tae-suk while hugging her husband.
The following monrning she cooks breakfast and the husband thinks it's for
him not realizing that Tae-suk is standing behind him and eating the same
breakfast. The husband is puzzled why she's suddenly so happy.
When the man leaves for work, the two lovers make love alone in the house.
Dream or real?
Samaria/ Samaritan Girl (2004)
is a crudely realistic drama.
Hwal/ The Bow (2005) is entirely set on a boat and the two protagonists never speak. It is a film of silent rituals, both traditional ones and newly created ones.
The man is an old loner who kidnapped and raised a little girl to become his wife,
a project that feels like it was his only purpose in life, the dream of his life.
The girl lives happily like a fish in her natural environment until the foreign
world contaminates her simple life.
Then the dilemma is whether she belongs to the ordinary world where she should be or to the extraordinary world that a selfish man created for her.
She never saw the world, but it feels like he too never saw the world.
He was happy that way, to build his own world far from the rest of humankind,
and assumed that she would be happy too that way.
The symbolic surreal ending doesn't quite condemn the selfish, pervert, kidnapper because it feels like he gave his life to make sure that she would be ready for her own happiness.
It's a fairy tale of values that are both ancient and modern, moral and immoral, with no simple message.
The real protagonist of the film could also be her sheer beauty, which is
emphasized at every shot.
The film opens with an old man preparing a bow-like musical instrument.
Then we see an old dilapidated boat in the middle of the sea.
Several men are fishing on it. A pretty teenage girl comes to bring them
water and two of the men begin molesting the pretty girl, making fun of the
fact that she's been living on the boat since she was seven with her
grandfather. As one of them begins touching her, the old man grabs the
bow and shoots an arrow that narrowly misses him (so the bow is not just a
She doesn't say a word. The fishermen gossip that the old man is going to
marry the girl when she turns of marrying age.
The old man has a reputation as a fortune-teller and so one of the fishermen
asks him to foretell his future.
The old man uses an elaborate method to read the future: he shoots arrows at
a Buddhist image painted on the side of the boat while the girl is swinging
just in front of the image; then the girl
whispers something in his ear (hence the girl is not mute) and he whispers something in the fisherman's ear. The fisherman gets upset by what he hears.
The fishermen are tourists and they depart.
Then we see the girl shooting arrows at the same image for fun.
Then we see the old man washing her naked in a tub.
Then we see the old man playing the bow as a sort of violin.
While she is sleeping, he measures her body parts. Before going to sleep
himself, he crosses the date on a calendar and we see that there is one day
marked as "wedding day"; and before falling asleep he grabs her hand.
The following day he takes off on a smaller boat while she has breakfast.
She always smiles, never speaks.
Alone on board, she plays the bow, she uses the swing, she takes a nap,
and eagerly waits for the old man to return.
He returns with two more tourists, groceries and a pair of women's shoes
which he stores in a cabinet.
Again the men try to molest the girl and the old man pulls out his bow
and shoots an arrow at them. The two men attack him, tie him up, and chase
the girl all over the boat. However, she grabs the bow before they can find
her and, smiling, shoots arrows at their legs. While they scream bleeding,
she simply smiles at them.
We don't see what happens next to the two men.
The next boat carries several tourists and one young man whom the girl seems to like.
She is curious about the headset he is using to listen to music and grabs it from him to try it out. The young man tries to strike a conversation.
The old man comes and takes her away.
The tourists stay overnight. The young man sees from a window that granpa
washes the girl naked in a tub. She sees him and smiles at him.
The following day the young man asks his father about the situation on board
and the father tells him that the old man found the girl when she was six.
The father then asks the old man to tell his fortune and again we see the
ritual of the girl swinging in front of the Buddhist image and the old man
shooting arrows at it. Then the girl whispers to the old man and he whispers
it to the father. The father laughs but refuses to tell his son about it.
Before leaving, the young man gifts the music player and the headset to the girl.
The old man, jealous, throws it away.
She stops smiling.
She spies from a window while he carefully checks the items that he has stored
in the cabinet for her wedding.
She becomes hostile to their silent rituals, like being washed naked in the tub.
When he goes away to pick up tourists, she opens the closet and wears the nice
clothes and shoes that he bought for her wedding; and she wears the headsets
even though there is no music to listen to.
The same young man comes back. She deliberately sits next to the young man and hugs him so that the old man can see them.
The old man grabs her and carries her to her bed.
Then he rudely takes the young man back to land.
The following morning she shoots an arrow near him like he does when men try
to molest her.
The young man comes back with other tourists. She smiles seeing him and again
comes close to him and again the old man gets jealous.
She breaks the arrow that he shoots at them.
This time the tourists sleep overnight on the boat. In the middle of the night, the girl sneaks out of her bed and into the young man's bed.
The old man wakes up just in time to stop them from kissing, but the young man
pledges to find the girl's parents and free the girl from captivity.
The following day the old man shoots arrows around the boat to scare the
tourists and then takes them back to land.
When he comes back, she tries to steal the small motorboat that he uses for
They never exchange a word. She doesn't scream either.
Then he changes the bunk beds into a matrimonial bed and tears up the calendar:
the wedding day is still a few days away.
The young man returns, alone, not as a tourist: he shows the old man that
her parents are still looking for the girl, who was obviously kidnapped.
The old man pulls out the bow and starts shooting arrows, this time not to scare but to kill. The girl puts herself in front of the young man to make the old man stop. At night the old man tries to touch the girl in the matrimonial bed but she slaps him.
The following morning he is so upset that he accidentally injures himself with a hammer. She tries to care for his wound but the old man slaps her repeatedly.
The young man is still on board and stops him, calling him a "demon".
Then the young man challenges the old man to tell his (the young man's) own fortune, which is basically the girl's fortune.
The old man grabs the bow and starts shooting arrows while the girl is swinging as usual in front of the Buddhist image but it looks like now
he's aiming for the girl.
The young man cuts the rope of the swing just in time to save her.
She falls in the water. When she resurfaces she whispers the future in his
ear and he dutifully whispers it to the young man.
We don't know what is said, nor whether the old man is repeating faithfully what the girl divined.
The young man begs the old man to release the girl. The old man opens the
closet and throws out all the items he bought over the years for the wedding
and then lies speechless in front of them. She pities him.
The young man helps the girl to the small boat and takes off with her.
Not a word is exchanged between old man and girl.
The old man puts the rope of the anchor around his neck so that the small boat,
moving away, will slowly strangle him to death.
He seems to have second thoughts as he tries to cut the rope with a knife
but he would die if the girl, on the small boat, wouldn't
somehow realize what is happening and turn the small boat back.
She returns to him and hugs him, both sobbing.
She decides to stay and marry him.
He dresses her up in the clothes that he bought for that occasion
and then they celebrate the wedding in the traditional manner, while
the young man watches silently and powerless.
The old man and the girl take the small boat
to consummate their marriage in the traditional manner
while the young man remains alone on the main boat.
In the small boat the old man stops the small boat and starts to play his bow for the girl.
The girl closes her eyes and falls asleep.
The old man stops playing, loads an arrow, aims at the sleeping girl, then shoots an arrow in the sky.
He looks sadly at her and then jumps in the sea letting himself drown.
The boat slowly drifts back to the main boat where the young man is waiting alone.
The young man watches puzzled that young girl who is still asleep but seems
to be sleeping of having sex. She wakes up when an arrow strikes between
her legs as she's having an orgasm (the arrow that the old man shot in the sky).
The young man jumps in the small boat to wake her up. She comes and, exhausted, she even bleeds.
She finally wakes up, smiling. The young man pilots the small boat away from the main boat. The main boat's engines turn on and the main boat starts following the small boat. She waves goodbye to the boat where she lived for ten years and
then the boat starts sinking.
When the main boat has disappeared in the sea, she puts to her ear the
sound drum used by the old man to turn the bow into a musical instrument
and we read her thoughts, that she wants to be like that beautiful and strong
Shigan/ Time (2006) is a mad love story about an obsessed woman,
a pathological case of a woman who cannot get enough love.
It is also a thriller of sorts. After she changes her face,
we sense her presence, we suspect she's behind strange events;
every time he meets a new girl we wonder if she's the one who had cosmetic
surgery. Then the thriller is over and we're back into paranoia territory.
The woman is subject to fits of split personality during which she can't
possibly be happy because she painted her two personalities against each other:
either he loves one or the other, and therefore the other or the one feels
betrayed. She has created the doppelganger who haunts her.
Then the film becomes a thriller again, as the man does the same thing:
he creates his own doppelganger, who hides from her. It is also a story
of cruel revenge, as the man now wants the woman to feel what it feels like
not to know who is whom.
By the end, it has become a philosophical meditation on the topic of identity,
as the woman screams "Who are you?" at just about every man in the street.
A woman is undergoing cosmetic surgery (shown in all its gorey glory).
When she walks out, her new face still invisible behind dark glasses and
bandages, a young girl who is distrated by her phone crashes into her and
breaks her portrait. The woman walks away while the girl promises to come
back and fix the portrait. When the girl comes back, she picks up the portrait
and heads for the cafe where she has an appointment with her boyfriend
is a madly jealous girl, who starts yelling at the waitress and then
makes an embarrassing scene in front of two attractive girls.
At home she admits that she is crazy. She tries to get him excited with
oral sex but he doesn't. Then she tells him to think of another woman and
he gets turned on. Then of course she starts crying of jealousy.
The following day the girl has disappeared: she moved out of her apartment
and she canceled her phone number. He looks in vain for her. Meanwhile,
she has remembered the cosmetic surgery place. She asks the doctor to give
her a new face. The doctor is surprised because she is already beautiful
and nothing will make her more beautiful. She just wants a new face.
The doctor warns her that it will be painful and will take six months to
recover, but she still decides to go ahead, just for the sake of getting
a new face.
Friends invite Ji-woo to party with them. He joins them at a karaoke bar,
gets drunk, meets a girl. He doesn't want to have sex with her but she
drags him to a motel where they start having sex. Then someone
throws a stone at the window. The hotel manager kicks them out.
Then an old friend, a photographer, offers herself to him: she just broke
up with her boyfriend (or, better, he dumped her). She walks to the
ladies' restrooms and comes back a different person: she doesn't want to
see him anymore. Now he wants her but she refuses.
He takes a boat the sculpture park that was a favorite of
Seh-hee. A woman wearing sunglasses and bandage is on the same ferry.
They briefly play with a child. Then they meet again among the sculptures
but she mysteriously disappears.
He joins his friends again for another meeting with girls. They randomly
pick couples and Ji-woo ends up with the unattractive one. She is kind
and warm and tries to entertain him, but obviously he's not attracted.
At the end she finds a polite way to walk away and he feels bad.
A woman who is really in love with him is the new waitress at the cafe where
Seh-hee made a scene once. She tries in vain to get his attention.
On the ferry again he meets this very girl and gives her a ride to the
sculpture park where they spend a lovely afternoon. They make out in the car.
She has written a card for him that consists in the words "I love you"
superimposed over and over again. However, when a child delivers it,
he comes to believe that it is a message from his old girlfriend.
The waitress is amused but does not tell him the truth. However,
she tells him her name: See-hee, which sounds a lot like Seh-hee.
She has a temper comparable to the temper
of the old girlfriend and loses her job at the cafe over him. He looks for her
until she reappears. He cooks for her and cleans her apartment.
They make love but
she refuses to show him old pictures of herself.
She wants to know whether he still loves his old girlfriend.
It is now clear that she is her: See-hee is Seh-hee.
Eventually she starts resenting his love: he's cheating on her former self
by loving her current self. She starts crying bitter tears.
Eventually she leaves him a note signed by Seh-hee that she (Seh-hee) wants
to come back.
Ji-woo is torn but then decides that he loves Seh-hee better than See-hee
and tells her (See-hee) so. Now See-hee has a crisis because she feels that
Ji-woo only used her for sex while he was in reality in love with Seh-hee.
Same woman, split personality: if she identifies with her old self, she's
happy that he still loves her; if she identifies with her new self, she hates
him for loving "another" woman.
See-hee reacts the exact in the same way that the old Seh-hee acted: a massive
embarrassing scene at the cafe in front of strangers, then disconnect the
telephone and lock herself in her apartment. See-hee disappears.
Ji-woo goes to the appointment that Seh-hee has given him. He finds her
wearing a mask. It is See-hee wearing a mask of Seh-hee made from the picture
before the cosmetic surgery, the picture that she didn't want Ji-woo to see.
Realizing what has been going on, he is disgusted and leaves her (even getting
into a fight with another customer of the cafe).
She walks back to the cosmetic surgery laboratory, still wearing her macabre
mask. She tears the mask and walks out.
Ji-woo has guessed where the operation took place and arrives just in time to
see the torn mask on the floor.
Ji-woo invites the doctor to have a drink. Drunk, he retells the whole story,
then accuses the doctor and gets beaten even by him.
One month later Seh-hee is surprised to receive a package in the mail: they
are photos of Ji-woo undergoing the same cosmetic surgery to change face.
He is doing to her what she did to him.
Months later she is at the cafe, waiting for him to reappear, but she cannot
recognize him. She holds the hands of guys trying to recognize him from the
size and feel of the hand.
She almost gets raped by one of the guys she befriends, but someone beats him
up and then disappears. We now feel that
Ji-woo is following her the same way that we felt she was following him when
she had disappeared.
She is driven even crazier by not knowing which of the many men she encounters
is her Ji-woo. She sleeps with a photographer who was taking pictures of her
at the sculpture park, but he confesses that he is not Ji-woo. We, of course,
don't know whether he's telling the truth or simply torturing her.
Now she starts seeing him everywhere. She talks to random men at the coffee
house, she runs after men in the subway.
People stare at her like at a madwoman.
When a man is run over by a van, she hysterically senses that it must be Ji-woo,
but there is no way to prove it.
Ironically, she realizes that she is near the cosmetic surgery laboratory.
She walks in and demands a new surgery, to create a face that nobody will
recognize. When she walks out, we see the first scene again: a girl runs into
her and breaks her portrait...
The film then zooms out to show huge crowds in the streets: one of those women
is the new new Seh-hee. Then the film shows
the sculpture park submerged by the tide.
Breath (2007) is a more conventional drama.
Dream (2008) is a mystery thriller highlighted by
Gi-tae Kim's cinematography.
Arirang (2011) is a
documentary made during a three-year self-imposed exile from narrative film.
Ahmen/ Amen (2011) is another experimental film,
shot mostly with a handheld camera, this time about a girl searching for her
boyfriend through Europe and being haunted by a rapist.
Pieta` (2012) is another poem of revenge, but this time in the form of
a morality play.
Despite the gruesome scenes of violence, this feels more like a kammerspiel
than an action movie: it mostly happens in narrow spaces and is mostly about
the psychological relationship between two characters, a
solitary sadistic loan shark of the slums and a
guilt-obsessed woman who wraps him in unconditional love.
The ending is weak, especially the pathetic scene of her committing suicide.
The whole plot is, in the end, implausible. Kiduk tries a bit too hard to
find the ultimate revenge.
A man in a wheelchair hangs himself with a chain controlled by an electrical
machine. Kang-do wakes up
and the first thing he does is to masturbate in bed.
In a small shop nearby a young man and his wife are frantically working
with machines that they bought on borrowed money, knowing that they cannot
pay back yet and that the punishment will be terrible. They beg in vain a
one week-postponement. Knowing what is about to happen, the machinist shuts down the
shop and decides to have sex with his wife but is rudely interrupted:
Kang-do has come to punish the man. The wife offers sex in vain. Kang-do
coldly ignores her and destroys the man's arm using an industrial press that
they bought with the loan.
The reason Kang-do cripples the man is that the man has been forced to sign
an insurance policy that will actually pay the debt.
Kang-do returns home and goes about his lonely quiet boring routine.
One day a woman shows up. She doesn't say a word but starts cleaning his
filthy apartment. He kickes her out. She camps outside. When he leaves the
house, she follows him and begs her to forgive her. She knows his name.
He slaps her repeatedly and she simply keeps asking for forgiveness.
Kang-do walks out to punish another customer who does not have enough money
to pay his debt. Kang-do does not care that the old sick mother is staring
and proceeds to beat him. Then Kang-do takes him to the upper story of
an unfinished building
(the man explaining in vain that there's nobody else to take care of his mother)
and throws him down to break his leg.
All the while the strange woman follows him without saying a word,
simply observing him.
Kang-do walks downstairs and checks the poor fellow's leg: noticing that the
leg is not completely broken, Kang-do grabs a stone and finishes the job.
As Kang-do is walking away, the victim shouts insults at him and the strange
woman kicks him where it hurts most telling him not to insult
her son... Later she brings food to Kang-do.
Another customer prefers to commit suicide rather than face Kang-do's
These are all poor people, who cannot make ends meet, who borrowed the money
hoping to improve their lives. Kang-do, in turn, seems to live only of their
money (and the money he makes out of their insurance policies when he cripples
The strange woman doesn't give up. Eventually he has to acknowledge that she is
indeed the mother who abandoned 30 years earlier,
Mi-Son (played by Jo Min Su/ Cho Min-soo).
She calls him and sings him the lullaby she used to sing him as a baby.
This time he lets her in, but he still does not believe her. In order to call
her bluff, he rapes her and enjoys her tears; but then lets go without finishing.
She lets her sleep in the apartment and the following morning she makes
breakfast for him. This time he's the one who stares speechless.
She doesn't even touch the food and leaves for his usual torture routine.
Kang-do's next victim is a young musician whose wife is expecting their first
child. Surprisingly, this young man is eager to be turned into a cripple because
he needs more money for his child, and he is happy to help increase the
insurance payout. Hence this time the victim stares boldly in the eyes of the
executioner instead of begging for mercy.
Indirectly, this musician teaches Kang-do what parents feel for their children.
And this time Kang-do leaves without harming his victim. But Kang-do doesn't
need to: the man does it to himself, determined to collect insurance money.
Back at home Kang-do finds his apartment clean and dinner ready.
Next up is an old man who candidly confesses that he never intended paying back
from the beginning. Kang-do follows him up a high-story building from where they
can see the skycrapers of downtown. We see a symphony of factory machines and
then the old man walking up the outside stairs while Kang-do is walking down:
the old man has decided to commit suicide and Kang-do is upset because death
complicates the process.
His mother is waiting for him at home.
He is beginning to have doubts about his pointless life.
They go out together, just mixing with the crowds and trying to have fun.
But a cripple who is begging in the streets recognizes him and follows them
home: he's the one who was humiliated in front of his mother and now wants
his revenge. She saves Kang-do from the cripple who wants to burn him alive
in front of her.
At night Kang-do has an erotic dream and she masturbates him without waking
One day she tells him that it is his birthday: obviously he has never
celebrated his birthday because he didn't know which day it was.
She spends all her time sewing a sweater and he thinks it's for him,
although it is a bit too small.
Now Kang-do has gotten used to her and realizes that he can't live without her.
Just then she disappears. She travels to another building and cries bitter
tears on a white trunk used like a casket, then she walks around and we see the wheelchair and
the chain of the first scene. Not knowing what happened to her, Kang-do fears
that his boss kidnapped her. But his boss knows nothing of it (and we learn
that his boss never told him to cripple people).
She comes back with a birthday cake and no mention of where she went.
Then she takes Kang-do to a place by the river and asks him to plant a tree
and also asks him to bury her there when she dies. He is horrified at the
thought that she might die.
Now she's playing with his feelings. She sends him to water the tree and then
calls him pretending that someone has broken into the house and is
attacking her. When Kang-do returns home, he finds the place turned into
a mess and no trace of her. Kang-do suspects that it might be the revenge of
one of his victims and goes door to door looking for them, but one is on
a wheelchair, one moved to another town and one is dead.
He even reaches the place where the man committed suicide with the
machine chain. His mother is inside but he cannot hear her.
She is sitting in the wheelchair and singing the lullaby.
Kang-do continues his manic search of the hell that he created, visiting more
of his victims, all of them reduced to extreme poverty, terrified of him but
Finally, he returns to the place where the man committed suicide with the
machine chain. This time he walks in and finds the
diary of the boy who committed suicide. The white trunk is empty but contains
blood stains. Exhausted, he sits in the wheelchair.
His mother comes out and starts insulting him. She never forgave him.
But either he cannot hear her or it is just a bad dream. Kang-do is asleep
in the wheelchair and two tears roll down his cheeks.
His mother, instead, walks to his boss' home,
slaps his boss repeatedly until he starts beating her back. Then she calls
Kang-do so that Kang-do can hear her scream, and then she coldly kills the man.
Next she walks to a multi-story building by the river where they planted
a tree: she is willing to commit suicide because she wants Kang-do to go crazy
seeing her die. She calls Kang-do and waits for him. While she waits, she
says that she is doing this to avenge her real son (probably the one who
committed suicide). When Kang-do arrives, she pretends that someone is pushing
her down. Kang-do begs cannot see that she is actually alone and begs the
imaginary attacker to let her go. She wants him to feel maximum pain.
Ironically a real attacker appears: the mother of one of Kang-do's victims,
who is ready to push his false mother down except that the woman jumps
for real. Kang-do, desperate, begins to dig a grave, and finds that there is
already a body buried there: the body of his false mother's real son, who is
wearing the sweater she was sewing.
This puzzling discovery presumably turns him crazy. In the last scene he is
lying on his back, tied to the truck owned by
the couple of the first crippling incident. The wife of the cripple gets into
the truck and starts driving it in the middle of the night, dragging Kang-do's
body on the asphalt, leaving behind a wake of blood on the highway.
The sadistic horror movie Moebius (2013)
In theory it is the least subtle of all his films, because it is a quasi-pornographic story of bloody sexual perversion, but it
has no dialogue (neither spoken nor written). It is not a silent movie: it's just the characters who don't speak. They do make sounds, but only primal ones. It's a pre-linguistic film, a further
step into minimal communication after The Bow.
They are not mute. In fact, sometimes they speak but away from the camera, where we cannot hear them.
It's an interesting novelty but the film is not exactly poetic and is probably
the wrong king of subject to be addressed with no words.
Since it has no dialogue, the film mostly consists of sadomaso exhibitions.
However, the film becomes subtler at the very end, with the ending that justifies its title.
Husband and wife fight violently in front of their son over who has to answer a phone call. The husband wins and walks on the balcony to talk on the phone.
Later the son sees his father having a romantic dinner with his lover and sees
them having sex.
The wife breaks into the house and sees them too. She grabs a knife that she has been hiding under a Buddha head, and, while
her husband is asleep, tries to cut his penis. He wakes up in time to repel her.
She walks into the bedroom of her son who is also asleep and castrates him.
She swallows his penis. The scream attracts the husband who tries in vain
to make her spit it out. The husband takes the son to the hospital while the
mother walks outside in the night.
She runs into a Buddhist who is praying on the sidewalk (an important detail).
The boy is released from the hospital but can barely walk.
The husband feels guilty and even thinks of shooting his own penis.
Then he visits a doctor and it looks like he has his penis removed, presumably for a transplant.
(All this happens without a single word being uttered).
Fellow schoolmates of the boy realize that something is wrong with his penis
and three of them attack him in an alley. They pull his pants off and are
shocked by what they see. His father sees them and runs to the rescue, kicking
the bullies away, but the bullies attack him and knock him out.
(Again, not a word is spoken).
The boy visits his father's lover at the shop where she works. She provokes him by removing her shirt and showing her breasts. The boy starts fondling them
but, when she tries to masturbate him, he runs away (presumably she's not aware
that he is castrated).
The three bullies attack him again but this time a gang of older boys
beat them up. These are thugs, though, and they are attracted to the woman,
who has witnessed the scene from inside the shop.
They take her to the back and rape her, one at the time.
The boy tries in vain to help her. When they are done, they encourage the boy
to do the same. The woman is lying on the floor, half naked, in pain, sobbing.
The boy pretends to rape her by sliding up and down on her.
They all get arrested.
To get his son released, the father tells the cops that he is castrated.
When the father tries to pull down his pants, to prove it to the cops, the son
kicks him mercilessly. The cops stop him and pull down his pants in front
of the gang. The boy attacks ferociously one of the gang members who sees his
The boy is clearly not guilty of rape but is thrown in jail anyway because
of his violence.
Meanwhile the father is searching the web for information about penis transplants.
Desperate, he thinks again of killing himself.
He finds out that one can masturbate by violently rubbing a rock on the skin of the foot, although the pain is intense.
The father visits the son in prison and hands him a message: the instructions on how to masturbate. The son tries it out successfully.
The boys are soon released from jail (apparently, rape is not a big deal in Korea).
The son immediately returns to the shop of his father's lover, takes a good look
at her, then returns home and masturbates with a rock, after which his father
gently heals the wound.
The father shows the boy what he has sound on the Internet about penis transplant.
The boy returns to the woman's shop. She is armed with a knife.
He doesn't move when she lifts it and plunges it into his shoulder.
Without screaming, the boy tries to open her shirt. She hesitates then
she shows him her breasts again. He masturbates by pulling the knife in and out of the wound. She helps him pulling and pushing the knife, faster and faster.
In doing so, even she has an orgasm.
The boy hides outside and sees that, after work, she leaves with the gang leader. They have dinner and then sex. But she is only pretending: she grabs the knife and castrates him, taking her revenge. The boy has witnessed the entire scene and runs away with the severed penis. The gang leader chases him. They fight.
The penis rolls in the street and is run over by a truck.
The gang leader returns to the woman and starts slapping her. The boy
attacks him from behind with the knife. The boy and the woman start moving
the knife inside the wound until they obtain the orgasm effet.
The boy finds news of a successful penis transplant. The father gladly accepts
to undergo the operation.
As soon as he is released, the boy goes to the woman's shop to show her the new penis. She tries to perform oral sex on it but the penis doesn't get hard.
The boy's mother returns home. We don't know where she has been all this time.
(Again, not a word is exchanged).
The mother immediately tries to perform oral sex on the father (in front of the son) but finds out that he has no penis anymore, and understands what has happened.
Comically, the son's penis (that used to be his father's) gets erected and the
son walks out embarrassed.
Later the mother tries to have sex with her son. He initially shuns her,
but later lets her get into his bed and masturbate him.
She succeeds but both end up sobbing.
The father can hear them through the door.
The father grabs the knife, which is still hidden in the Buddha head,
and tries to castrate his son.
The three fight. Then they give up and just cry.
Meanwhile, the castrated gang leader returns to the woman's shop and asks her to
perform the sadistic masturbation with the knife. She plunges the knife in his
shoulder again and starts moving it while hugging his head tenderly.
The boy is passing by and sees them.
At home the father loads his gun, kills the mother, and then kills himself.
The boy takes the gun and then we hear a shot (we don't see it but presumably
he shot his penis).
In the middle of the night the boy prays in front of a Buddha on a sidewalk:
he has become the Buddhist whom his mother saw praying on that same sidewalk.
There's a smile on his face.
The odd gangster-movie
One on One (2014) is unusually verbose.
Stop (2015) is a trivial take on the Fukushima disaster.
The Net (2016) is a political thriller.
Kim died at the end of 2020 of covid-19.