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With a dozen films from this year’s Cannes fest under his arm, James Hewison is reaching across the globe to Korea for an up to date retrospective of the works of iconoclastic director Kim Ki-Duk, whose latest film, Bad Guy was the talking point of the competition at this year’s Berlin film festival.

Festival director James Hewison is offering an expanded Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) with some 183 feature films (up from 167) – not to mention shorts and docos – criss crossing the globe, but Asia at its heart. “When we screened Kim Ki-Duk’s The Isle last year,” says Hewison, “the audience reaction was enormous. I’d only heard of him prior to that, but on the strength of that film I felt it appropriate to have a Korean director at the centre of the festival.” At the film’s Berlin competition screening, audiences were divided about the confronting film, and passionately so, says Hewison.

The film is set in the red light district where a pimp forces a pretty college student into prostitution. Each grows dependent on the other in a twisted love story.

In an interview with Volker Hummel for Senses of Cinema (Issue 19, March-April 2002, published with the permission of the editor), Kim Ki-Duk reveals some painful personal experiences that have had a lasting impact on his work:

VK: As often in your films, the main protagonist of Bad Guy, the pimp Hang-gi (played by Cho Jae-Hyun), is a silent figure, unable to communicate or express himself. His only language seems to be violence. What is the reason for this silence? 

KKD: The reason that in my movies there are people who do not talk is because something deeply wounded them. They had their trust in other human beings destroyed because of promises that were not kept. They were told things like "I love you", and the person who said it did not really mean it. Because of these disappointments they lost their faith and trust and stopped talking altogether. The violence that they turn to, I prefer to call a kind of body language. I would like to think of it as more of a physical expression rather than just negative violence. The scars and wounds which mark my figures are the signs of experiences which young people go through, in an age when they can not really respond to outside traumas. They cannot protect themselves against physical abuse, for example from their parents, or verbal abuse or when they see their parents fight. Or when you walk in the street and someone beats you up. When those kinds of things happen, you are helpless and you cannot do anything about it. These experiences remain as scars for those people. I personally had experiences like these. For instance, in the past, some kids who were younger than me but physically stronger beat me up. I could not defend myself. Also, in the marines, because some of the soldiers were in a higher rank they beat me up for no logical reason. In the process of having gone through experiences like this I ask myself, why does this have to be? These questions stayed with me until I became a director and now I express how I think and feel about these things. 

VH: Would you describe your films as autobiographical? 

KKD: In the case of Bad Guy I first have to say that I really don't like people like Hang-gi, but there was an incident when I met somebody who worked in the red light district. He beat me up for no reason, and at the time I hated that man. In that situation I did not understand him at all, but I wanted to try and do so. Through this movie I tried to probe into the character's psyche to find out what makes him do these things. 

Although Australian films open (The Tracker) and close (Australian Rules) the event, the festival’s global flavour is further enhanced by 12 films fresh from this year’s Cannes festival, a list which itself is full of ethnic and national diversity, quite apart from the dedicated International Panorama. It was largely the unexpected success of his Cannes fishing expedition which enlarged the program.

The opening night promises to be a milestone event for the festival, with the screening of Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker taking place at the lavish Concert Hall, with live accompaniment by Archie Roach – a reprise of the film’s world premiere at the Adelaide Festival earlier this year. “That was probably my most awesome experience in a cinema,” says Hewison. 

The international flavour is further enhanced by the first FIPRESCI award at the fest – in line with Sydney and Melbourne festivals, which also introduce this award in 2002. In Melbourne, the award by the international critics (in association with Australia’s professional film critics organisation, FCCA) will focus on Asian cinema. FIPRESCI Vice President Ronald Bergan (The Guardian's esteemed film critic), Li Cheuk-to (Hong Kong Economic Times) and Australia's own film commentator Megan Spencer from Triple J, will judge the award, and also look at the Australian films for a Special Mention citation:

1) FIPRESCI Asian contenders:
Blue Spring, dir. Toyoda Toshiaki, Japan
Chicken Heart , dir. Hiroshi Shizumi, Japan (2002 Cannes, Critics Week)
Cry Woman, dir. Liu Bingjian, China (2002 Cannes, Un Certain Regard)
Deserted Valley, The, dir. Pham Nhue Giang, Vietnam
Looking for Bruce Lee, dir. Kang Lone, Korea
Mon-rak Transistor, dir. Pen-ek Ratanarwang, Thailand (2002 Cannes, Qunizaine)
My Beautiful Girl Mari, dir. Sung-gang LEE, Korea
Nabi: The Butterfly, dir. Moon Seung-Wook, Korea
Princess Blade, The, dir. Sato Shinsuke, Japan
Sorum, dir. Yoon Jong-Chan, South Korea
Suicide Club, dir. Sono Sion, Japan
Take Care of My Cat, dir. Jeong Jae-Eun, Korea
Unknown Pleasures, dir. Jia Zhang Ke, China (2002 Cannes, Official Competition)
Waikiki Brothers, dir. Im Soonrye, South Korea
Whispering Sands, dir. Nan T Achnas, Indonesia, Japan
You Shoot, I Shoot, dir. Pang Ho-Cheung, Hong Kong

2) Australian contenders (for FIPRESCI Special Mention):
Australian Rules, dir. Paul Goldman
Kabbarli, dir. Andrew Taylor
Teesh and Trude, dir.Melanie Rodriga
Tracker, The, dir. Rolf de Heer
Walking on Water, dir. Tony Ayres

Published June 27, 2002

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Bad Guy

July 23 – August 11, 2002
Info: 03 9662 3722

The Tracker - opening night film
Low or High

Australian Rules - closing night film
Low or High

Festival in Cannes
Low or High

Y Tu Mama Tambien
Low or High

Monrak Transistor; by Thailand's Pen-ek Ratanaruang, from Directors Fortnight in Cannes

Whispering Sands; made by Indonesia's acclaimed Christine Hakim, guest of the festival

Walking on Water


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