Kitano, Kim Ki-duk see Asian art house in crisis

Dario Thuburn
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Ki-Duk's film "Pieta" competes for the Golden Lion prize in Venice

Korean film director Kim Ki-Duk, seen here signing autographs at the 69th Venice Film Festival on September 4, told AFP that the Korean film industry is still lacking compared to the European and American markets

Internationally-acclaimed directors Takeshi Kitano from Japan and Kim Ki-duk from South Korea told AFP at the Venice film festival that making art house films in Asia is a daunting task.

With his bleak morality tale "Pieta" now one of the favourites to win the Golden Lion prize in Venice on Saturday, Kim said he regretted that audiences at home still did not sufficiently appreciate his foreign award-winning work.

"The Korean film industry is still lacking compared to the European and American markets," Kim said in an interview at the Excelsior Hotel, striking an arresting sight in his camouflage jacket, baggy trousers and red-laced boots.

"They still view films as entertainment instead of looking at artistic value or social issues," said Kim, who despite having made 18 movies is still seen as something of an outsider in Korean cinema and has no formal schooling in film.

Kitano, who premiered his yakuza flick "Outrage Beyond" at the festival this week, went even further saying art house cinema in Japan was in "dire" straits.

"You have to make a film like 'Avengers' to get recognition," he told a select group of reporters on the sidelines of the world's oldest film festival.

"My 'Outrage Beyond' is as close as you can get to an 'Avengers' kind of movie so I am hoping to get a big audience with this one, as big as possible!"

The veteran 65-year-old director -- a former stand-up comic and one of the biggest names in Japanese cinema over the past two decades -- said apparently only half-jokingly that he was under pressure to make a big box office hit.

"My producers are in a difficult position these days because my films have performed so badly in recent years so we had to make a hit! My worst fear is being asked to make a third sequel. That would be my worst nightmare."

The director, who looked not unlike the gangster character he portrays in the film as he sat sprawled in an armchair and speaking in a low, gravelly voice, said his previous art house films were now pursuing him like "a ghost."

"I have the feeling that the old Kitano that I killed became a ghost and is haunting me. Maybe this old Kitano will become a zombie and rise again!"

Kitano added that some of the difficulties in making art house cinema in Japan were linked to a wider crisis in the cinema industry worldwide.

"Fewer people are going to the cinema these days. They would rather watch movies on their smartphones or on a computer," he said. "Maybe you don't need a filmmaker to make films any more, maybe you just need a computer programmer!"

Kim said that part of the issue was that the market is skewed in favour of blockbusters and suggested that distributing art house via the Internet could be a solution but he added that the main problem was viewer attitudes.

"Audiences need to see that there is much more value to these films than just entertainment," the 51-year-old pony-tailed director said.

"I believe audiences who see this film will question capitalist society."

"Pieta" is a searing condemnation of money-grabbing capitalism couched in a morality tale about a thuggish loan shark who struggles for spiritual redemption when a woman claiming to be his mother suddenly appears in his life.

The film is set in the dank alleys and clapped-out workshops of a part of Seoul where Kim himself used to work and its title is inspired by Michelangelo's statue of the Virgin Mary holding the corpse of Jesus Christ.

Kim once trained to be a preacher -- one of many incarnations in a past in which he was also a street artist in Paris and an officer in the army.

"I studied to be a preacher but did not finish. I am trying to realise this by being a filmmaker," he said, adding that he is working on two new films.

"One is also about money and how people eat each other up because of money. and another is about celebrities and how they are viewed," he said.

Critics have noted that this year in "Pieta" and "Outrage Beyond" both filmmakers have toned down the explicit violence that featured in some of their earlier work and shocked many domestic and foreign viewers.

Kim said he had realised that audiences "can feel it with their imagination" and wanted the focus to be more on "the implications of the violence."Kim said he had realised that audiences "can feel it with their imagination" and wanted the focus to be more on "the implications of the violence."

Kitano said that after his previous film "Outrage" all anyone talked were the violent scenes and "they didn't really pay much attention to the plot."