While browsing Play.com over the weekend I noted an upcoming Tartan release: Kim Ki-duk’s neglected The Coast Guard. The title of the film, to a westerner, is somewhat misleading. In the peaceful west, a coast guard is something to do with lifeboats, or air-sea rescue. He sits in a lookout post all day scanning the horizon for drug smugglers or Spanish trawlers using illegal drag-net fishing techniques. I apologise to any coast guards reading this — I’m not meaning to downplay the importance or danger in what you do. But it’s not the stuff of a Kim Ki-duk film. And so I only acquired my region 3 DVD of Coast Guard when it was the freebie in Yesasia’s buy 3 get one free offers. I was sorry I’d waited so long. For a South Korean, a coast guard is quite different: it’s someone who guards the shoreline against the constant threat of infiltration or attack from the North.
Kim Ki-duk’s film is about a coast guard who flips and kills a civilian; or maybe kills a civilian and then flips, I can’t remember. It’s about the pressures of being in the military, and about the tension between the military and the local civilian population. And to me it’s more interesting than many of Kim Ki-duk’s other films. Maybe I watched it at a topical time — when there was at least one or maybe two recent stories of junior members of the Korean military losing control and shooting or otherwise slaughtering his comrades or superiors. If anyone can find any of the stories, let me know. The only link I can find right now is a story from the Daily Star, a paper so unknown to me I don’t even know what country it’s from. [Update 10 August 2006: here’s a more recent story from the Chosun.]
Anyway, it’s a highly recommended film, almost the most “mainstream” of his films to date in that it’s not hugely violent or shocking, it’s not made for the foreign festival market, and it’s got dialogue. It doesn’t make you think about what on earth’s going on — it makes you think more about the society and situation which provides the background for the story.
And why am I giving Tartan free publicity? Well, it’s good for a start that they’re bringing out stuff that isn’t Asia Extreme (even though the motivation must be that Kim Ki-duk is trendy so let’s release all his stuff) — the DVD will be released on the plain old Tartan label rather than Asia Extreme, according to the cover image on Play.com. But the reason I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out and donating my existing region 3 copy to a worthy cause is that according to Play.com it comes with a director’s commentary track, and Tartan subtitle those. So once it gets below £10 at Play.com, it’ll be in my shopping basket.
Kim Ki-duk (김기덕): The Coast Guard (해안선, 2002)