AMEN (Kim Ki-Duk, Korea) – 5/100
In a recent conversation with fellow Busan Haps film writer Thomas Bellmore, I explained that when choosing which movies to watch at BIFF, it’s important to consider one of two things: the director and the pre-festival buzz surrounding the movie. Let’s not forget, there are a whopping 307 films in this year’s lineup, and while the selection committee does receive a handful of submissions from world-renowned auteurs, by and large, the movies that get picked every year are made by unknown directors who couldn’t get their films accepted at more prestigious festivals like Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. Now, I hate to be so dismissive and I don’t mean to discourage you from occasionally going with your gut and walking into a movie cold, but if you’re anywhere as picky about films as I am, then you’re probably just setting yourself up for disappointment. Call me narrow-minded, but being adventurous at any film festival rarely pays off, let alone one as inclusive as BIFF.
That being said, my personal film selection strategy is really nothing more than a rule of thumb, and even some of the directors I admire most can go off the deep end and make something so utterly unwatchable it’ll test my loyalty as a fan. Enter Kim Ki-Duk.
As the black sheep of Korean cinema, Kim gets more respect abroad than in his native homeland. In fact, most Koreans outright dislike him even though they have a propensity to fawn over any national figure who’s been remotely successful on the world stage. I’ve always stood up for Kim against the criticisms of non-believers, but in the last five years, his work has been getting harder and harder to defend. Not since “Time” (2006) has he made a decent movie, a fact he’s apparently well aware of since in his this year’s earlier attempt at a comeback, “Arirang” (2011), he spends more than an hour and a half talking into the camera about his dwindling reputation and the creative block he’s suffered through over the last three year break he took from filmmaking.
In light of Kim’s recent funk, I went into “Amen” with guarded expectations, cautiously keeping myself from becoming too optimistic, while genuinely hoping it would mark his long-awaited return to form. Unfortunately, the downward spiral into the creative abyss continues as this latest effort represents a new low for the once brilliant director of “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” (2003) and “3-Iron” (2004). Shot between April and June, with no script, no crew, and only one lead actress, this is precisely the kind of half-assed, low-budget art-film that gives film festivals a bad name.
Centered around an unnamed Korean girl who lands in Paris only to find out that her host has fled the country, the entire movie essentially amounts to Kim traipsing around Europe with a cheap digital camera as he follows his protagonist hopping trains back and forth between different cities. The weak plot is only made worse by clumsy camerawork, unpolished sound design, and choppy editing that would make most student films seem professional.
“Amen” could perhaps be interpreted as a mirror for Kim’s own current lack of direction, as it becomes clear within the first few minutes that he, and not just the protagonist of his movie, is who’s really lost. But if that was the director’s intention, he needs to spare us this introspective, self-pitying nonsense and get back to making real movies again.