By Paolo Bertolin
might have not been winning the Golden Lion at the recently concluded Venice Film Festival, but his 11th film "Pinjip (3-Iron
)", recipient of the Best Director Award, has certainly swept away the hearts and minds of the crowd and brought him home bags full of praise.
Hailed by many as the moral winner of the festival and selling fast to international distributors (sales company Cineclick Asia struck a U.S. distribution deal with Sony Pictures Classics), "3-Iron
" has definitely propelled Kim from the status of cult director to the rank of world-class filmmaker.
Kim's long-lasting love story with foreign critics and cinephiles actually started at the Venice Film Festival back in 2000 when "Som (The Isle
)" was his first film to be invited to compete in a major international festival.
Many still recall how some sensitive viewers swooned or had to leave screenings before the end of his now classic gut-wrenching story of love and death pierced by fishing hooks.
This award, no doubt the most important Kim has collected, thus comes as a symbolic crowning to his ascent to international recognition, an ascent that has often felt like an uphill climb, but from which he is now gaining benefit.
Though widely appreciated by the critics, "The Isle
" was actually completely overlooked by the jury, as were his subsequent "Silje Sanghwang (Real Fiction
')' at Moscow 2001, the hugely compelling "Suchwiin Pulmyong (Address Unknown
)" at Venice 2001, and the visually impressive "Nabbun Namja (Bad Guy
)" at Berlin in 2002.
Kim's earlier films, although regarded as artistically achieved, were certainly too controversial in their way of dealing with violence and man-woman relationships to achieve universal recognition, but they put him on the map for Western film critics and he started to develop a following among European movie-buffs. In the summer of 2002, the Czech Republic's Karlovy Vary Film Festival gave him the honor of his first international retrospective.
Unfortunately, 2003 started with a double letdown, as both "Haeanson (The Coast Guard
)" and "Pom Yorum Kaul Kyoul ... Kurigo Pom (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring)" were denied competition slots in Berlin and Cannes, respectively. Ultimately, however, these exclusions made the wheel turn in the right direction for Kim: both films won International Film Critics Awards at Karlovy Vary and Locarno. "Spring", though once again left out of the official verdict, was such a hit with Swiss festival audiences that it gained worldwide distribution and became an international art-house hit. This year finally sealed the triumph of Kim with a pair of Best Director awards, in Berlin with "Samaria
" and in Venice with "3-Iron
Added at the very last minute to the Venice competition lineup as a surprise film, "3-Iron
" was welcomed by reviewers, bringing Kim his third International Film Critics Award.
Italian member of the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Jury Massimo Causo greeted the film as Kim's "new masterpiece" at www.sentieriselvaggi.it, adding: "`3-Iron
' gives confirmation to a talent that creates extraordinary artwork at an impressive rhythm, always coherent with this great South Korean director's poetic universe, made up of lucid desperation and serene detachment from reality".
Veteran reviewer Tullio Kezich, penning for Italy's most important newspaper, "Il Corriere della Sera", described Kim's film as a "paradoxical metaphor that displays itself in just one-and-a-half hours, conjugating with rare elegance in levity and depth". According to Kezich, Kim "follows in the footsteps of Antonioni's visionary style, but personalizes it with a corroborating dose of irony and oriental spirituality". Lietta Tornabuoni of "La Stampa" presented Kim as a "protagonist of world cinema, a poetic narrator of loves and solitudes", labeled "3-Iron
" as "an admirable film" for its "visionary elegance, levity, deepness, spirituality, semi-mute characters", and commenting on the verdict remarked "the only indisputable thing was the award to Korean Kim Ki-duk
Italians were not the only ones to be enraptured by Kim's film: Spain's leading newspaper "El Pais" warmheartedly applauded "3-Iron
" as an "unusual and silent tale filled with all the magic in the world", The U.K.'s The Guardian called it a "beautiful film" and Germany's Stern labeled it "an exceptional romance".
If the reviews were good, the audience' response was even better. A 15- minute standing ovation saluted "3-Iron
" in its first public screening, surprising director Kim and actors Lee Seong-yeon and Jae Hee
, who had to hang around as viewers gathered around them to give compliments and ask for autographs.
Some people claimed not to have seen such an astonishing applause since the posthumous premiere of Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut". The award for "3-Iron
" also generated the longest applause at the awards press conference, Kim drawing further appreciation for dedicating the award to fellow Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek
, also competing with his "Haryu Insaeng (Low Life
)", addressing him as a "master".