Kim was in Berlin to present his Panorama-selected film “Human, Space, Time and Human.” But he became a target of the #MeToo anti-sexual violence cause when the Berlin Film Festival was accused of hypocrisy. The Berlinale has openly embraced #MeToo, so what was the festival doing by giving a platform to man recently accused of sexual violence?
Kim took the inevitable first question and answered directly. “There is indeed a regrettable case, which happened four years ago. I have explained and answered in court. The public prosecutor identified my slapping the actress as problematic,” said Kim. The court fined Kim for slapping the actress while making “Moebius,” but it dropped charges of sexual assault.
“We were rehearsing a scene, with a lot of people present. My crew did not say it was inappropriate at the time. The actress interpreted it differently,” Kim continued. “There has been a ruling. I don’t entirely agree with it, but I have shouldered the responsibility. And such rulings are part of the process of changing the film industry.”
Asked directly if he would like to apologize for the slapping incident, Kim was defiant. “No. I find it regrettable that this was turned into a court case.”
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Another punchy question: Are you going to change your behavior? “The interpretations of this incident were different. I explained everything to the public prosecutor. I take on board this ruling,” Kim parried.
Actress Mina Fujii was asked how Kim treated her. “Working with Kim Ki-duk was very pleasant. That may surprise many people. We communicated a lot before shooting. Kim did not treat the men or women differently on set. We were all treated with great respect.”
And slowly the interrogation turned towards “Human” and Kim’s often dark and graphically sexual oeuvre. “Do you need violence to make art?” he was asked. “There’s a safety aspect… and a question of respect for cast and crew,” Kim said.
“Human” sees Kim push his characters to the limit in an examination of people’s will to survive. It includes cannibalism and a gang rape of the last woman left on earth. “The resulting child is not the child of any one of them, but the child necessary to keep humanity going. That makes her the mother of humanity,” Kim suggested.
Asked to account for the darkness in many Korean films, Kim metamorphized, emerging more as victim than misogynistic actress beater. “There have been two traumatic incidents in recent Korean history. The Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War. Many directors carry this trauma with them. My father was a Korean War veteran, injured four times and bedridden. I had to live with that,” Kim said.
Next Kim explained that he had originally wanted to shoot “Human” on a grand, biblical scale, but was tripped up by a lack of finances. Apparently, he sought Korean and American finance, but came up short. In the end, “Human” was made on a budget of $200,000. “Had I had a greater budget, I might have shown pigs and a lion, but I had to settle for chickens and eggs,” said Kim.
The press conference ended with Kim grateful, contrite and maybe ready for another round. Having thanked the Berlinale for inviting him back after a 14-year absence, he turned to the assembled media. “Thank you for your interest. I feel your concern about violence. You should know that I don’t actually live my life like my films.”