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  • Dec 21, 2020

Obituary: Kim Ki-duk (1960–2020)

Portrait of KIM KI-DUK. Image via Wikipedia.

On December 11, South Korean film director Kim Ki-duk, known for his eccentric and shockingly violent arthouse cinematic works, passed away from complications of Covid-19 in Riga, Latvia. His death came just nine days before his 60th birthday.

Kim’s films often dealt with dark and controversial subject matters, such as domestic abuse and suicide. His acclaimed works include Pietà (2012), depicting the relationship between a brutal loan shark enforcer and a woman who claims to be his long-lost mother, which won him the Golden Lion at the 69th International Venice Film Festival, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter . . . And Spring (2003), set in a remote Buddhist monastery in a tranquil forest, where a teenage boy goes through a sexual awakening. He was conferred the Silver Lion for Samaritan Girl (2004), a contentious tale about two teenage girls who plan a trip to Europe via the sex industry, at the 54th Berlin International Film Festival, and the Venice Days Best Film Award at the 71st Venice Film Festival for One on One (2014), about a high school murder.

Kim was born in 1960 in Bonghwa, North Gyeongsang Province. He studied fine arts in Paris from 1990 to 1992, and was a street artist in the city until 1995. He began his film career as a screenwriter, winning first place in a scenario contest held by the Korean Film Council in 1995, upon his return to South Korea. He debuted as a director a year later with the widely praised low-budget film Crocodile (1996), about a man who tries to stop a woman from committing suicide. However, it was The Isle (2000) that became an international sensation and established him as an influential director globally. The violent work, which follows the disturbing relationships between a mute fishing-resort-owner, her troubled guest, and a prostitute, was criticized for its scenes of real animal cruelty.

In recent years, Kim’s career was shadowed by allegations of assault by three women. In 2017, an actress anonymously accused him of hitting her and coercing her into performing sex scenes during the filming of Moebius (2013). In 2018, two other women claimed he had sexually assaulted them. Although the sexual assault charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence, Kim was found guilty of assaulting the actress.

The director is survived by his wife and daughter.

Emika Suzuki is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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