Film Scouts Diaries

2006 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
41st Karlovy Vary Festival Diary #2: Amour Fou and Diplomacy

by Henri Béhar

KARLOVY VARY, CZECH REPUBLIC, JULY 3 – South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Time is one hell of an amour fou story. Seh-hee and Ji-woo are lovers who have a perfectly hot, perfectly active affair. Obsessed, however, to the point of mental illness by the destructive impact time might have on their relationship, convinced Ji-woo might get tired of seeing the same face on the same pillow day after day and eventually move on to another woman, Seh-hee decides to take drastic measures. Disappearing without a word, she undergoes extensive plastic surgery and becomes that "new woman" for him. For a good six months, Ji-woo frantically searches for her, to no avail. He meets other women, but rejects them one after the other. Until he meets a strange woman who mysteriously eludes him. We know she is the "new" Seh-hee, he doesn't. When he finally finds out, he, too, will make a most radical decision. Question: can love withstand such a double loss of identity?

"What you see of the plastic surgery operations is about 5% of what I actually filmed," said the incredibly youthful-looking director at his press conference when asked about those particularly vivid scenes. "Had I included 10% of what I shot, the film wouldn't be shown anywhere." Could we please have that as a bonus on the DVD?

The press conference, such as it was, turned out to be into a remarkable exercise in international diplomacy by the director and two of his main actors. A sample:

Question (to the director): "Your thirteenth film seems more gentle than the previous ones ? Have you become more gentle? Has your view of the world softened? Also, you are often compared to Steven Spielberg. Do you see any similarity between the two of you?"

The director: "I sometimes hear or read that I have changed. Maybe it is true. My personal life has hardly changed at all. It is very ordinary, perhaps slightly happier than it used to be." A pause. "As for Steven Spielberg, the only similarity that I can see is that we are both alive and making films. I will say, however, that I enjoyed "'Minority Report'".

Question (to the director): "Most of your previous films took place in an isolated place. This one takes place in a city."

The director: "I like isolated places and cities are full of them."

Coming from a journalist who hadn't realized the "new" Seh-hee was played by a different actress, the following question made the audience gasp: "You show a lot of plastic surgery," the reporter said, "yet the actress doesn't look different; besides, she is still bordeline crazy. So what was the point?"

" 'Hardly changed?'", the director replied. "It is a different actress. But that's okay," he added with the most angelic smile, "you Europeans all look the same to us." A pause. "As for overcoming mental illness through plastic surgery, well, it can happen. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't."

The leading actress tried to relieve the tension. "I am slightly older than my fellow actress," she said, "so I apologize to her."

On a more serious note, the director reminded the attending reporters that as of July 1, 2006, the South Korean government had rescinded screening quotas by half – down to 72 days per year of Korean films – thereby opening the floodgates to an invasion of mostly American films, good and bad. "The quota system had allowed Korean directors to find their own voices, find their local audiences and meet with new audiences abroad. With the new law, those voices will probably be stifled, for despite the increasingly international recognition, it will be more difficult for people like Im Kwon-tek and me and others to continue to make films."

Which would be a pity, for, as evinced by Lee Yoon-ki's Love Talk (international premiere, in competition), there is a whole generation of South Korean filmmakers waiting in the wings. Love Talk takes place in a milieu that has hardly been explored before, the Korean communities in Southern California, complete with crowded houses, massage parlors and tiny shops, where the American Dream (freedom, money, education) collides with traditions and nostalgia. With a radio show at its center (the "Love Talk" of the title), the film weaves several stories of long-lost love and survival, captured in long, muted and oddly drained shots. Definitely a voice not to be silenced.

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