Samaritan Girl (2004)

26 01 2008

Kim Ki-Duk has built up something of a persona that can probably only be matched in modern Asian cinema by the cult of Shinya Tsukamoto. His films are almost self-consciously sloppy and self-indulgent to the point that many find him endearing. He produces films at a ridiculous rate (three films in the past three years) which implies that not only are his films quickly thrown together, but he is constantly attempting to reach some sort of personal understanding. This is probably romanticizing Kim’s films as they are indeed terrible, objectively speaking. He has many detractors to point this out. The most (in)famous one being Tony Rayns who oddly enough has a very friendly personal relationship with Kim. Without going into any profound analyzing, I’ve deduced two things about Kim: 1) he’s a terrible director and 2) he’s a very interesting person. I just can’t make any statement on his actual films.

Samaritan Girl is no exception to Kim’s messy, self-indulgent, misogynistic world. If anything, it is the perfect introduction to it. Jae-Young and Yeo-jin run a prostitution service so they can save up enough money to travel Europe. Jae-Young is the prostitute and Yeo-jin is the one who organizes their business, if you can call it that. Jae-Young is much more outgoing and energetic where as Yeo-jin is quiet and takes things a bit more serious. She cares so much for Jae-Young that she is immediately disgusted by her friend’s customers. Jae-Young always reports back with touching information about the men she meets but this upsets Yeo-jin. Jae-Young dies which leads to Yeo-jin taking over the business and she tries to comprehend the joy that her friend got from their customers. Yeo-jin’s dad becomes suspicious and eventually starts “hunting down” these men. They meet up at Yeo-jin’s mother grave for a father-daughter bonding finale.

It’s pretty much impossible to comprehend the depth of their relationship; Yeo-jin’s feelings for Jae-Young may have been intentionally romantic or it could have just been a result of Kim’s usual misogynistic overtones paired with two schoolgirls. It’s still the most interesting aspect of the film. Had it not been for Jae-Young’s death this could have been a very nice, low-key friendship film (a la Take Care of My Cat) but the mood of the film shifts every fifteen minutes or so. Much of it’s strength can be built upon an early scene in which Jae-Young tells the story of an Indian prostitute in a poetic, non-intrusive manner.

The middle stretch of the film is embarrassing, though. Yeo-jin’s dad becomes dedicated in an unreal, noir detective kind of way. This leads to him killing her customers in the film’s most outrightly exploitive sequences. His overly-dramatic introduction basically points out the type of thing to expect from Kim. He is using a very common dramatic tone in hopes of finding something much more deeper in true. It’s like he’s taking conventional storytelling and turning it into a symbol for something much deeper. This is where I give up on this “conflicted artist” explanation of Kim. No matter how open-minded I try to be, this isn’t really that good.

I’ll try to step back and say that since Kim’s films are so objectively bad (poorly-made in technical terms) that they cannot be assessed in the usual manner. This is an awful lot of thinking that has to be done for a director who probably isn’t even self-conscious of his “deeper” appeal. As I said earlier, Kim Ki-Duk the person has to be very interesting and this film makes it very obvious. However, I don’t know Kim as a person, I haven’t meet him and so his films provide nothing more than just a really weird guy attempting to commit his soul onto celluloid. This is why Tony Rayns’ case is so interesting to me. Much like the relationship between Yeo-jin and Jae-Young in this film, I don’t know how well Rayns and Kim know each other. Even if they are merely friendly acquaintances, there must be some influence on Rayns’ opinion. Since he’s meet Kim, he’ll know some basic things about him, they can carry a conversation and both will probably have an idea of how the other will respond. This might be where Rayns’ distaste for Kim comes in, he has a pretty good idea of how Kim is going to structure his films.

This is not a criticism of either person. It’s mostly just me pondering about their relationship. Whenever Rayns sees a very Kim-like aspect in one of Kim’s films, he probably rolls his eyes because he expects it. What Kim seems to be trying to do is honestly and accurately, put his soul on film with all the self-indulgent excess that it probably results in. Much like what John Cassavetes intended on doing, but the two just have a different personality. Speaking of which, I bet the relationship between Ray Carney and the on-screen Gena Rowlands is probably equally befuddling. If I were somehow right about all these things, it would just be a perfect example of how films really can affect our lives. I don’t mean in the superficially “realistic” type of way but in a way that we are not even conscious of. Our own relationship with the images on the screen vs our relationship with the people projecting that image onto the screen. In other words, this was a pretty okay movie.

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27 01 2008
iwan

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