The best French organists are known for their improvisation skills. Suggest a theme, and they will start a journey from it, sometimes referring back to it but often exploring strange new vistas completely unrelated to it. The essays in this book strike me as something similar: fantasias and rhapsodies inspired by the theme of Kim Ki-duk’s films rather than fugues or sonatas which examine the themes every which way. And definitely not etudes.
The written content of this book is pretty sparse. It has 127 pages in total, of which the essays take up one half. The other half is taken up by stills from Kim’s films, scattered impressionistically throughout the book in no particular order, and with no particular relevance to the text opposite which they are set. The stills have no description, and you have to turn to the back of the book in order to find out which film they are from (in fact, maybe one of the reasons you continue to turn the pages in this book is to see what picture comes next and to see if you recognise the film it comes from).
Of the four essays, I struggle to say that they are about Kim’s films. Rather, they seem to me a stream of ideas somehow inspired by but not necessarily connected to them. Some connections are drawn between the films, for example the impulsive violence to be found in many of them; and the blood, fish and other motifs which seem to recur. But when the rhapsody strays too far from the given subject we are treated to preposterous sentences like
They wait for the end of the Calvary with wisdom and humanity.
This is in relation to dogs on a farm, about to be turned into dogmeat in Address Unknown.
There is some useful biographical detail contained in the book — for example Kim’s time as a street artist in France (cue parallels with Real Fiction) — and an interesting aside in Adrien Gombeaud’s article that Kim’s trademark violence came about at the request of the marketing men. And in probably the most down-to-earth article (by an ethnologist) we learn of the Chinese custom of filleting live fish (hence the sashimi incident in The Isle might not seem so shocking to an Asian as it does to a Westerner). But in general the book has told me little about the director or his films. The book’s last chapter is a rather stilted interview with Kim, conducted by email.
A final niggle. There is currently no international convention on which is the “right” direction to orient the letters on the spine of a book, though all ninety books in my Korean collection adopt the top to bottom convention (which is the logical direction if the books are ever stored on their backs rather than on their ends). Until now, that is. This newcomer is in a minority of one in printing the title bottom to top. I regret not being able to spread seasonal good cheer, but this book is a disappointment and a visual irritation.
- Feel free to disagree. Buy Kim Ki Duk at Amazon, read it, then leave a comment below telling me how wrong I am.