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new south-korean zinema koldo almandoz   Over the last few years we’ve seen quite a few South Korean films shown at film festivals where they have also been awarded a fair number of prizes. And that, dear reader, is by no means a coincidence or quirk of fate. The political opening-up of South Korea has jigged up a fair number of different circles there. Local film-makers have made some really spine-tingling, radically shackle-free films on shoestring budgets, and little by little, we’re finally getting to see the kind of stuff that Western producers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot barge pole. We should be grateful for the opportunity we’re getting to see the type of cinema that dances all over the bourgeois dribble that fills our screens normally.
Every year, there’s always somewhere you can get to feast your eyes on new films coming out of a country that is still very unknown to us. While most of these intimate stories are either experimental or terror, we still get a new focus on human relationships, the violence of our ever-changing society and a unique look at how we understand our bodies and sex. There are loads of names we could mention: Jang Sun woo (he premiered his wonderfully daring and beautifully bone-crunching story about masochism and love, “Lies”, on the big screen over here); Hang Sangsoo’s experimental work; any of the prolific Im Kwon-taek’s dozens of films, but we’ll concentrate our efforts on Kim Ki duk and Boon Joo-ho...

KIM KI DUK: e-mpossible interview on cinema

We tried one last time to interview this man over the net but there was absolutely nothing doing. Kim Ki-duk doesn’t do interviews. A journalist once said of him: “Kim Ki-duk makes the type of films that are made by somebody who has never been loved by his mother”. He wrote back to the journo saying that even though his mother might not know how to read or write, she had been a good mother. He also wrote that he would never give another interview.
Kim Ki-duk is an intuitive director. He was thrown out of school as a child, he started working in a factory and then he enlisted in the army. He has created a really vibrant and personal style of film-making without ever having received any formal training. He has exposed the darker sides of Korean society with his ever-present personal angle on things clearly to the fore. He comes up some violent yet beautiful metaphoric imagery that shies away from magical-realism. His films aren’t all that popular in his native land but over in Europe the organisers of the film festivals are always at each other’s throats trying to get him to premier his work with them. At the 51st San Sebastian International Film Festival, he was unexpectedly awarded Public’s Favourite Film Award for his amazing Bom, yeoreum, gaeul, gyeowool, geurigo, bom ( spring, summer, fall, winter... and spring). He has also made interesting pics like Coast Guard, Bad Guy, Address Unknown, Paladaemun, Real Fiction, and what is probably his most famous film, The Isle.

BOON JOONG-HO: possible interview about cinema

The crazy surrealist Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) was this chap’s debut. As soon as we heard he was coming over, we got in touch with the press office at the film festival here in Donostia and asked for an interview. We arrived at the prefab set up at the hotel and out of curiosity we asked him how many interviews he’d had. The translator said our one was the fourth. By the end of the festival when his second film Memories of Murder (2003) had won him Best Director, Best New Director and the FIPRESCI Critics’ Award.

Why did you choose a true story to make Memories of Murder?
I wanted my second movie to be a police thriller, but I didn’t want to make your typical “cop” movie based on just action, intrigue and car chases. I wanted to develop the characters and make a social and humanist film as well as a police story.

The fact that you chose a case that was never solved only adds to the originality...
Yeah, it gives you the chance to make the film a bit more ambiguous. Instead of just focusing everything around the killer, it also homes in on the police side of things. The idea of the film is to capture the essence of Korea 20 years ago as seen through the eyes of the police in the film.

Do either of your films fit into any strict genre?
I wanted a humanistic approach to “Memories of Murder”, something realistic. The fact that “Memories of Murder” is based on a true story means that parts are quite frightening and other parts are quite funny. If you want to capture reality as a whole, you can’t limit yourself to any one genre in particular. The very same thing happened with “Barking dogs never bite”.

At the start of the film we come across a couple of police torturers, and though at first this is shocking and painful, by the end of the film I’d say that the viewer accepts this violence and even justifies it...
Doesn’t that happen all the time? Do we not accept all the brutality that is churned out on TV everyday? I don’t think it strange if the viewer changes their opinion as regards the two police characters. The same thing happens to all of us.

How do you explain the boom in South Korean film-making?
Ever since the 1970s there has been a new bunch of film-makers and producers who have really shaken up the South Korean cinema industry. Korea, politically and socially, has really opened up in the last few years and this “catching-up” with the rest of the world outside has given us the chance to “rethink” our society.

Is Korean cinema as successful at home as it is in Europe?
Some films are, but only the ones based on action, martial arts and copies of American style movies. Films with character or films made by “film-makers” aren’t as popular. Is in not like that over here as well? As far I know, once outside the film festivals, European films don’t reach that broad an audience. Is it not so?