Love as pain and pain as love:
Two films by Kim Ki-duk
"A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!"
Wrote English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. There is something very haunting about this passage from the poem ‘Kubla Khan,’ especially the image of the woman wailing for her demon-lover...
Why does more often than not, love takes a disastrous path with two unlikely pair coming to make each other’s lives miserable? This is the question that has been nagging me since watching two film by Korean’s director Kim Ki-duk, The Isle (2000) and Bad Guy (2001). Both the films are as different as chalk and cheese, but at the heart of them are Kim’s maverick storytelling and that inexplicable attraction between two people which take a violent part both physically and mentally.
Both the films demand attentive viewing and a very, very open mind, especially 'The Isle,' which is violent without being gory, which actually makes it more violent. The film was criticised in the West for animal cruelty, there are scenes where a fish is skinned alive and released in water again, some fishes are given electric shock. But more violent are the human cruelty, the man shallows a pair of hooks while the woman shoves them on her private parts. But what becomes more violent is how instead of using other means (like words for example), how people in both the films resort to their body to express their desires, no, its not sexual desire, but something altogether different.
In Bad Guy, the hero, perhaps a pimp, and perhaps a mute, resort to an elaborate scheme to turn a college-going girl into a prostitute. He succeeds. She protests and finally resigns to her reality. And then, they fall in love, without even uttering a word. Her room in the redlight district has a one-way mirror through which the mute watches the girl entertain her clients, but he never dares to go to her room. While everyone else sleeps with her, he remains the only person who refrains from doing so. Once when he’s drunk, he visits her but nothing physical happens. In the end, in a most unconventional end of a love story, they leave the redlight district on a truck and start a mobile brothel, he’s still the pimp and she is still a prostitute, but they a couple nonetheless.
In 'The Isle,' even this kind of compromise could not take place. We do not know what happened in the end, only that the girl is seen dead and the boy makes an escape. Their love is so strong that they fail to give a breathing space to each other, and as a result doom their love story.
Here, he is a man with a past, who does not believe in love anymore, she is an ‘used’ woman trying to make a living. They meet like two fierce enemies. That’s probably the reason why they are so attracted to each other. He has committed murder for the sake of love, now she too becomes a murderer killing her rival in love with a cold-blooded passion.
The high point of both the films is that there are no conventional methods to express the character’s anguish except for their bodies, and the actors do it with aplomb. What you see in the screen is the rawness of human experience, without any frills. Here’s the thrill.
— Dibyajyoti Sarma