Book review: Kim Hong-joon: Kim Ki-young

Kim Ki-young book coverKim Ki-young, Ed Kim Hong-joon
KOFIC Korean Film Directors Series
Seoul Selection, 2007
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KOFIC’s enterprise in bringing out this series is greatly to be welcomed. This current instalment is particularly welcome as English-language materials on Kim Ki-young are few and far between. (Chris Berry’s web project, House of Kim Ki-young, seems to be out of action at the moment. There’s Kim Kyung-hyun’s essay comparing Housemaid with Happy End in South Korean Golden Age Melodrama, reworked in his book on Remasculinsation, plus Chris Berry’s paper on Killer Butterfly in the Wallflower Press book on Japanese and Korean cinema. Apart from those materials I know of no readily accessible publications.)

Even this book is a bit of a wasted opportunity, being in the main a republication of existing material (albeit work not readily available). There’s a very useful introduction by Lee Yeon-ho, a reprint of a 2003 article by Kim So-young (Modernity in Suspense: the logic of fetishism in Korean cinema), and an article by Chris Berry – Introducing Mr Monster – reprinted from the currently unavailable 1998 collection edited by Chungmoo Choi, Pre-Colonial Classics of Korean Cinema. There’s also a well-edited amalgam of different interviews with Kim, and synopses of all Kim’s 32 films – whether or not prints of them still exist. And overall the book reads well.

What is staggering is the neglect shown to one of Korea’s most outstanding and distinctive directors. His Housemaid (1960) beat previous box office records, while Woman of Fire and Insect Woman topped the box office in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Yet, regrets Kim,

Sadly, almost none of my film prints have been preserved properly. Some, like A Defiance of Teenagers and A Soldier Speaks after Death, have even lost the negatives in the process of exporting overseas… The same, I think with The Insect Woman and Woman of Fire.

Yangsan Province (1955), which Kim regards as his finest work, is missing its final scene. And on DVD, I am unaware of any available subtitled versions of his films.

This book makes a good case for why we should be interested in Kim – a mildly eccentric individual who produced some wildly original work.

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