Without a Screen: Ki-duk Kim

Without A Screen : Ki-duk Kim

On August 17th Eastern State Penitentiary will host the Philly premier of South Korean auteur Ki-duk Kim’s 2007 film Breath. Kim experienced a brief period of side-stream success in the States between 2003-2005, when Sony Pictures Classics released Spring Summer Fall Winter And Spring, and 3-Iron to arthouse cinemas and DVD. Spring Summer and 3-Iron, however, marked his 9th and 10th films. Unfortunately, after 3-Iron, Kim was once again relegated to the festival circuit in the US (and barely so). Thanks to the UK based Palisades Tartan, it is easy to snatch up almost his entire back catalogue, including Kim’s post-2005 films.

Kim has been noted as something of a transgressor of film and character conventions. His narratives brim with urgent emotion and language, yet his pace is moderate and his protagonists are often mute. Kim churns out visceral exercises in class dissection, existential survivalism, and language-formation through characters that speak with actions. He also develops the physicality of cinema into a platform for developing his own visual linguistics, a clear evidence of his fine art background.  Breath is in many ways a refinement of Kim’s recurrent themes, but he goes a step further to generate a commentary on the medium of cinema itself, and his role as director. In anticipation of this rare screening of Breath, Without A Screen assembles a mini-retrospective of Kim’s career.

Birdcage Inn (1999) Jin-a is a girl in her young teens. She moves into a motel / boarding house run by a small family (a mother, a son, teenage daughter, and father) in the slums of a seaside city. She is replacing the former prostitute under the family’s employ. She pleases clients by night, and spends her days drawing. She suffers various abuses, and is treated with contempt left and right. The heart of the film is the evolution of the contentious relationship between Jin-a and the daughter Hye-mi. Birdcage Inn is rare, but can be found on VHS, and is an excellent example of Kim’s early craft.


Samaritan Girl (2004) When young teen Yeo-jin’s best friend and soul mate Jae-yeong dies, she enacts a strange penance upon herself. The two had been acting as pimp and trick to save money for a trip to Europe. After Jae-yeong’s death, Yeo-jin visits all their former clients. She channels the soul of her deceased friend into these meetings in order to take them upon her own. When Yeo-jin’s detective father becomes privy to her perplexing actions, he makes waves against those same clients. The uncommon bond of this Father and daughter is tested to the brink in this utterly singular “coming of age” tale. Samaritan Girl won Kim a well-deserved Best Director prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The Bow (2005) takes place entirely on a dilapidated old boat, set to anchor far off shore. A 60-year old man has been raising a girl since she was a baby. He lives in quiet anticipation of her impending 17th birthday, whereupon they will marry. They live a secluded and simple life, and rent the boat to day fishermen as an outpost. Their lives change when a teenage student comes aboard and stirs up the girl’s emotions. This shift challenges the stability of the man who has patiently prepared for their marriage and raises questions about various moralities.


Dream (2008) Kim creates a bizarre portrait of two individuals that overlap identities in through dreams. Jin (Odagiri Jo) dreams of seeing his ex lover whom he still adores, and Ran acts out these events like a puppet sleepwalker. Kim strides poeticism and matter-of-factness that as things between the two dreamers continuously escalates. Ran and Jin’s emotional pasts overlap, and their dreams entwine them for better or worse… mostly worse.

Author: Aaron Mannino

Aaron Mannino is a Philadelphia area artist, film enthusiast, and some other things. He has made contributions on film analysis to the publication Korean Quarterly. Visit his blog or his website for writings and art-ings.

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