Dir/scr: Kim Ki-duk. South Korea. 2014. 122mins
South Korea’s famed idiosyncratic filmmaker Kim Ki-duk gives his spin on the vengeance narrative in his latest film One On One that ticks all the boxes for Kim Ki-duk fans through his raw and uncompromising aesthetic, but ultimately, despite the unusually heavy dialogue for Kim, and the genre-driven story, it remains a divisive piece of work.
The film is brutal and vivid and so those who tend to react unfavorably to his films will continue to do so, but some may see this as less provocative compared to some of his other films such as Moebius that had a difficult time with the Korean censors.
The film, which opened in South Korea in May failed to attract large numbers, having generated just 10,141 admissions ($77,000) on 53 screens, and while the success of Pieta where he won the Venice Golden Lion gave him much local exposure, Kim has always been a more popular name overseas. Although this may not be reflective of his strongest work, further festival invitations following its international premiere where it opens Venice Days are assured.
The film begins on a May evening where a schoolgirl is chased and murdered. Sometime later, the men involved in the killing are targeted one by one by this sect consisting of seven individuals called ‘The Shadows’ who imitate various government forces such as the army, police and National Intelligence. The men are tortured until they confess their crime on paper; upon which they are released, but as the leader (Don Lee) becomes more desperate, the other members begin to question his methods. In addition, one of the men abducted decides to tail the group after his release, and discovers their hideout.
Unlike many of his commercial contemporaries, Kim is renowned for making his projects imperfect, which contributes to the rawness of the film. One on One is no exception in this regard as is evident through some of the film’s rugged feel, but this is arguably part of his overall appeal fitting well with the film’s dark tone.
Thematically, Kim continues to address issues in social class with frequent references to the gap in wealth and the system itself, which is illustrated in the stories of those who are part of ‘The Shadows’. One member has been conned out of $100,000 dollars to an unscrupulous so-called friend while another individual is also living in poverty as his wife is dying in hospital.
True to form, however, the film is brutal and vivid and so those who tend to react unfavorably to his films will continue to do so, but some may see this as less provocative compared to some of his other films such as Moebius that had a difficult time with the Korean censors. The abundant use of dialogue along with its genre tropes could be seen as an attempt to seek a larger audience, but his use of execution will always divide opinion.
Don Lee (aka Ma Dong-seok in Korea) who tends to have a more successful time playing supporting roles (Kundo: Age Of The Rampant, Nameless Gangster) is able to deliver in his part as the cult leader conveying the cruel, manipulative, and yet at times sympathetic character that occasionally speaks in English. Other leading and supporting roles are generally satisfactory.
At 122 minutes, it is longer than a usual Kim Ki-duk film and at times feels that way when the narrative becomes increasingly repetitive as the cycle of revenge becomes clearer, but it is nonetheless an interesting film by Korea’s most eccentric auteur.
Production company: Kim Ki-duk Film
International sales: Finecut, www.finecut.co.kr/renew/main.asp
Producer: Kim Soon-mo
Executive producer: Kim Ki-duk
Screenplay: Kim Ki-duk
Cinematography: Kim Ki-duk
Editor: Kim Ki-duk
Production designer: Hon Zi
Music: Park Young-min
Main cast: Don Lee, Kim Young-min, Lee Yi-kyung, Cho Dong-in, Yoo Teo, Ahn Ji-hye , Jo Jae-ryong, Kim Joong-ki