‘I can’t make films now, so I’m filming myself. By filming myself, I want to confess my life, myself as a director, and as a human being. I’m making a film about me. This could be a documentary, a drama, or a fantasy. I can be the characters in the films I want to make, or I can hold the camera and film myself. Nothing planned, but I need to film something to be happy. So I’m filming myself.’
So states Kim Ki-Duk at the beginning of ‘Arirang’ (made prior to ‘Pieta’), laying out his reasons for producing such an unusual piece of filmmaking.
While filming ‘Dream’ in 2008, an accident occurred which almost resulted in the death of the lead actress. Kim Ki-Duk clearly felt responsible for this accident, and it left him traumatized. As a result, he retreated to a rural cabin and lived alone for around 3 years. While suffering from writer’s block (or director’s block, as he calls it), he decided to start filming a kind of video diary that became the feature ‘Arirang’.
It begins with a wordless introductory sequence, which goes on for a little too long, showing his daily life in the cabin, he is not without some technology (he has a computer, and obviously cameras) but is required to be more practical and resourceful regarding cooking and sanitation.
The bulk of the film consists of a conversation he has with himself, cutting between him (with hair tied back) objectively posing questions (and some encouragement) to a more downtrodden version of himself (with hair loose). This leads into the loose-haired Kim giving a series of long speeches, reflecting on his career, touching on his earlier life, and the incidents that led him to his current situation. He does find some fairly profound things to say about life and film in the process, but also ends up sobbing and singing the titular folksong into an empty soju bottle.
He then adds another layer to this by showing himself later (and presumably now sober), viewing and commenting on these speeches, then also cutting to more scenes of his daily cabin life while the monologue continues in soundtrack, preventing it from being too much of a ‘talking head’ piece.
Everything that takes place after the speeches isn’t so interesting though, and at one point he starts welling up while watching the climax of ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring’, which just made me want to watch that film again instead.
It’s clear throughout that ‘Arirang’ is therapeutic for the traumatized, Kim Ki-Duk, what he loves to do, what he needs to do, is make films, and by filming himself, he’s gotten over his personal problems. The question of whether he should have released such a confessional piece to the public is more up in the air.
It is a career retrospective like no other, but may also be really only for his fans. It’s virtually impossible to defend ‘Arirang’ against accusations of self indulgence, but it’s rarely boring, though not very cinematic either. It is remarkable proof though that a film can be made entirely by one person for basically no money, which is an achievement in itself, and with Kim Ki-Duk more successful than ever now thanks to ‘Pieta’, ‘Arirang’ clearly served its purpose.