Infernal Machines: The Films of Kim Ki-Young
March 12 – 18, 2008
"Kim Ki-young is a true artist, a filmmaker who boldly makes films in his own voice, rough as it may be, in a country in which everybody else is busy imitating films from abroad.” —Byeon In-sik, Films Monthly (1978)
If one were to poll the newest generation of Korean filmmakers—artists such as Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Hong Sang-soo among others—as to which earlier Korean filmmakers have had an impact or influence on their own work, the name most frequently mentioned would be Kim Ki-young. A born maverick, Kim’s work encompassed the range of Korean cinema: The Housemaid (1960) became the biggest box-office success in Korean film history, while later works such as Carnivore (1984) and The Woman of Fire ’82 (1982) established the look of the low-budget, independent films of their era. Even when making literary adaptations, Kim (who frequently wrote or re-wrote his scripts) would almost completely transform the source material, leaving at best a theme or a setting as the link to the original.
Born into a family of artists in South Korea, Kim spent some time after high school in Japan, where he first discovered a wide range of foreign culture, especially Greek tragedies, Ibsen and Eugene O’Neill. After Korea’s liberation from Japanese control he returned home and enrolled in medical school in Seoul, but his interest in the arts, especially theater, continued; during the Korean War Kim became part of a film unit in Pusan run by future writer Oh Young-jin and sponsored by the United States Information Service. After the armistice Kim joined the emerging South Korean film industry, although unhappily only one of his films made in the 1950s, Yangsan Province, can be seen today. With The Housemaid, his ninth film, Kim created the template that would structure so much of his future work. Kim’s characters frequently find themselves trapped in harmful situations, often of their own making. Their escape is blocked by various social norms or practices; indeed, the harder they try to escape, the further in they are pulled. An instinctual artist, Kim always seems ready to abandon correct or tasteful form for a powerful visual or aural effect. The rawness of the emotions on screen is more than matched by the directness of his cinematic style.
Although Western audiences might find a certain “B-movie” quality to Kim’s work, for most of his career he worked on well-funded projects with many of Korea’s top stars. He stopped working in the mid-’80s, by which point he had become completely marginalized within the Korean film industry. Happily, with the emergence of the Korean New Wave in the ‘90s, a revival in interest in Kim’s by-then forgotten work emerged, culminating in a major retrospective at the Pusan Festival in 1997, securing his place in Korean film history. Tragically, he died in a fire in his home just a few months later. –– Richard Peña
Calendar to view the schedule, film descriptions and to purchase tickets online.
Presented in collaboration with the Korean Film Archive. For their help in arranging this series, we wish to thank Denise Hwang and E.J. Tae from the Korean Film Council, Mrs. Cho Sun-hee and Hannah Chu from the Korean Film Archive, and Korean Cultural Services in New York.