The Net ★★★★

TIFF16 Film #20

Reason for pick – director Kim Ki-duk ( too many films to list )

There’s a particular type of masochistic anticipation you experience whilst wondering what the low budget / no boundaries Korean provocateur auteur will serve you up next. The last one we saw at TIFF, Moebius, left one of my son’s friends ( who’s a firefighter and military reservist ) a broken mess on the verge of crying for his mommy ( I gave him extra points for wanting to come with us again this year, but took them all back when he suddenly dropped out because of unexpected ‘military business’ ).

Will Kim go farther, stretching the limits of what censors could possibly pass? Or maybe, just maybe, deliver another gentle and thoughtful gem like 3 Iron or Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall, and Spring; one lacking the skin crawling gaze averting violence he’s so skilled at delivering. Having previously seen The Isle, I already knew what he could get up to with fish hooks, so a film about a fisherman didn’t put my mind at gentle ease.

I was wrong. It was lovely.

Kim takes a page from his countryman Park Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area and examines the contrasts and similitude of country and culture ripped apart 70 some years ago. A simple North Korean fisherman is swept into political intrigue by chance and currents; his boat being carried down the river to the south.

Clichés of North and South are parodied, but the undercurrent is the soul wrenching issue at the heart of what Kim is exploring, separation. While reunification appears to be the longing of the people of both the North and South, different paths have been travelled so long now that it’s a desire that has no easy passage. It’s not just the two government’s ideological differences, but also that of the peoples; the people of the South thinking of themselves as saviors, and the people of the North seeing the South as corrupting the soul. Kim takes no distinct sides.

There are no real twists and turns. Once you get on the ride, you can pretty much tell how it’s going to end; that doesn’t matter though, it’s the internal conflict that both peoples face every day that’s at the heart of the film. Kim didn’t make this film for the North … he made it for the South, and the final scene with the young daughter is his message.

A few years back at a trade show I was having business dinner with a group of South Koreans who worked for one of our partners. They seemed rather amazed that I knew anything about South Korean cinema, or that South Korean cinema was known outside their country at all. After we discussed many films by many directors, I asked them what their favourite Korean film was. I expected a revenge actioner, but no, the vote was unanimous amongst the half dozen of them, Park Chan-wook's JSA.

I think The Net will do well at home.

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