I watched two films by Korean writer/director Ki-duk Kim – Address Unknown (2001) and Samaritan Girl (2004). I’ve now seen five films by
him – also Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter … and Spring (2003), 3-Iron (2004) and The Bow (2005). I’ve liked them all except for Address Unknown,
which is the earliest. They are pretty much standard fare for this kind of world cinema: quirky, downbeat films. Perhaps you don’t like such
Having watched the two films, I found myself wondering why I liked one and not the other. The first I felt unengaged by and only wished
it would come to an end so I could do something else; the second, at first I was unsympathetic, but gradually I started to be drawn in and enjoyed it.
What was the difference between them? – Perhaps the second had a more cohesive structure, a single linear plot rather than, like the other one, a
sequence of strands of plot. Perhaps it was because the second film was better shot. Perhaps the situation put forward in the second film was just
fundamentally more interesting.
No, I have no particular idea why I enjoyed the one and not the other; and (and perhaps this is why I’m never
going to make a decent critic) I really don’t care. Analysing such nebulous concepts seems to me a futile task and one which, even if I managed to
reach some sort of conclusion, would be unlikely to help – presumably, I would still continue to like and dislike the same things, even if now I
understood the precise reasons unpinning my feelings (if I didn’t – if my analysis caused me to change my feelings – then I feel my analysis would in
some way be untrue; – though on the other hand, you could say I’d learned some discernment); – but then again, perhaps any conclusion I came to would
just be a justification after the fact of my initial prejudice anyway, and would have no more validity than that.
If I’m inclined to hazard
anything, it would be that Ki-duk Kim shows greater skill as an artist in his later films. This isn’t too surprising a fact: artists tend to improve
on their earlier works. (I confess, some seem to get worse too: they lose some understanding in some way, or more likely become misled – DH Lawrence
strikes me as a good example). – If a work is poor, then we can say there is some artistic skill lacking.
Hence, if we should find that there
is no worth, say, in the majority of (all of?) contemporary literature, then we might be inclined to suggest this is because of a general lack of
skill (whether brought on by the age, by our education system, or by the interests of the publishing industry – who knows?). A lot of people who hang
around the litblog world also seem to be of the opinion that there is a something wrong with the contemporary scene – and so I find a kinship with
them; – where I often find myself differing is in my view of a solution. In fact, I tend to think that their ideas for a solution are a good part of
the problem. I cannot find myself agreeing with the view that there should be more novels in a (post-)/modernist style / experimental novels / novels
written in a free-direct (or is it indirect?) style / realist novels, if not hysterically so / novels written by the working-class which are
authentic. It’s not for me a question of style – just of quality. (The Book of Other People, which I’m dispiritingly working my way through
at the moment, is full of stories in (fairly) different styles – though maybe I shall write another post soon to contradict this – but what is lacking
throughout is the ability for most of the participants to write anything interesting, with any sort of narratorial skill – that is, what they lack is
talent). – Personally, I’m of the opinion that someone could easily come along and write a great novel about middle-class people, upholding bourgeois
values, with a linear narrative, told by an omniscient narrator, full of stereotypical characters (flat and of no interiority), appealing to a broad
spectrum of book-buyers, with a beginning, a middle and a happy end, in that order. – All these other views strike me as narrow and too prescriptive
in their notions of a cure, pointing us down some literary cul-de-sac where they happen to be living.
From an essay on the novel
Now the critic who claims to define the Novel according to the notion he has formed of it from the novel he
likes, and to establish certain unchangeable rules of composition, will every time come up against an artistic temperament introducing some new
technique. A critic really worthy of the name should be simply an analyst, without bias, without preferences, without passions and, like an expert in
pictures, should only appraise the artistic value of the work of art submitted to him. His understanding, open to everything, should so override his
own personality that he can reveal and praise even books that he dislikes and that as a judge he is obliged to comprehend.
But the majority of
critics are merely readers, and hence it comes about that they find fault with us almost always for the wrong reason or pat us on the back without
reservation or moderation.