South Korea: Golden Lion Winner ‘Pieta’ Reveals Society's Dark Side

The Golden Lion award-winning Korean film ‘Pieta‘, which is also South Korea's submission for the 2012 Academy Awards (in the foreign-language film category) has sparked social media buzz and ignited various public discussions in the Korean blogosphere this week. As the film became the center of media attention, more revelations were made about the dark side of South Korean society.

Although the film achieved monumental success in Korean movie history by receiving one of the most prestigious awards at the Venice Film Festival on September 8, 2012, the movie director said he is still struggling to find theaters to show his film in South Korea. Some Twitter users supported his claim and tweeted that there is no movie theater running the movie in Choogju [ko] city, Masan [ko] city and not even in one of the multiplex theaters [ko] in his region.

The movie is a brutal, violent story of a loan shark who one day meets a woman claiming to be his mother in his journey toward redemption, but finally comes to a devastating end. The story is being interpreted as disclosing the inhuman and dangerously materialistic aspect of the Korean society. Twitter user @whitestar612 wrote [ko]:

[…] 영화 ‘피에타'는 자본주의가 결국 없는 자들이 서로 물어 뜯어 죽이는 구조라는 것을 극단적으로 보여주는 영화였다. 픽션이지만 결코 픽션으로 넘어갈 수 없는 우리 사회의 단면.

The movie “Pieta” shows that capitalism can be a system that forces the poor to turn against each other and bite each other to the death – in an exaggerated fashion. Although it is not based on a true story, it reveals the sad aspect of our society so well that it is hard to treat this movie as mere “fiction”(as in ‘not a true’ story).

Another user @slowcinema commented [ko]:

영화 ‘피에타'는 우리 사회로부터 소외되고, 외면당한 채 처절하게 살아가는 사람들을 대상으로 삼고 있었고, 곪아터지기 직전, 너무도 고통스런 그들의 현실이 아프도록 적나라하게 드러나 있었다.

The movie “Pieta” depicts struggling lives of people who are being isolated and ignored in our society and the harsh, painful reality they face, which are filled with problems festering under and about to burst open.

The reviews about the movie and the director were not unanimously positive. The movie director Kim Ki-duk‘s works, although lauded by movie critics and loved by art fans, have been turned down by general public. Most of his films are brutal, violent and often appear to be misogynistic. A majority of the female characters in his films are almost always being raped and abused physically and mentally by the male characters. In Daum Agora, South Korea's biggest public forum, netizen bestlife resonated [ko] the ordinary audiences’ sentiment.

영화를 보고 마음이 평안해지는 것이 아니라 토할 것 같은 역겨움…억지로 보라는 건지…여성관객들을 유린하는 듯한 영화[…] 강자에게 억압당하고 약자에게 화풀이하는 현상이 반복되고 있습니다.

I was nauseated and felt like vomiting after watching the movie. One needs to force oneself to watch this one. (meaning it is not pleasant at all). The move itself seemed like it is violating the female audience. […] This film merely repeats the vicious cycle where the weak, after being oppressed by the strong, blows off steam/anger by violating the weaker ones.

Bestlife made a harsher remark [ko] on the movies’ repeated theme of raping, calling the director “one who gained success by torturing and raping women”.

Others focused more on the director's personal background. Kim has been widely seen as an outcast in South Korea’s film industry and has been struggling for decades for refusing to make mainstream commercial films. Twitter user @ichwell wrote [ko]:

김기덕의 수상은 자랑스러우면서도 한편 부끄럽다.사실 한국영화계가 그에게 해준것이 없다.그의 제작비의 대부분은 자신의 돈과 해외판매 수익으로 충당된것이다.한국영화계가 키워낸 감독이 아니라 한국밖의 관객과 영화인이 키운 감독이다.

I feel proud of Kim Ki-duk for winning the award but at the same time feel ashamed. The Korean film industry has done nothing for him. Most of his movie's production cost was covered by himself from the profits made abroad. This movie director was raised by international audiences and film industry people outside Korea, not by the Korean movie community.

Agora user haeorm wrote a detailed post [ko] praising the director's success.

그의 상업적 영화에 대한 불신과 순수 예술영화에 대한 고집 때문에 20년 째 국내 영화계에서는 이단적 괴물급 아웃 사이더 감독으로[…] 공식 학벌이 중졸이고 서울 청계천이나 구로공단에서 노동자 생활을 하며 청년시절을 보냈던 바닥 인생 김기덕이 어찌하여 한국사회에 굳어저 있는 학벌,노동,무식,빈곤,차별이라는 철옹성과도 같은 진입 장벽을 뚫고 […]

He has been an outsider, a mutant in the Korean movie industry for last two decades, due to his obsession with the pure artistic film and distrust in commercial ones. His highest education ends in middle-school graduation and he spent young years working as a laborer in Seoul's Cheonggye area and Guro industrial complex. But he rose from his low life, after breaking all the social barriers against the less educated, the physical labor workers, the poor […]

The user added that Kim was an example of rags-to-riches story that brought hope to other struggling young Koreans.

1 comment

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.