"Kim Ki-Young: Master of Madness"
In a just world -- or one with better international film distribution -- Korean auteur Kim Ki-Young would be ranked in the B-movie pantheon with Sam Fuller or Roger Corman, whose films recall Kim's in their brilliant combination of artistry and sleaze. In the mid-1950s, Kim (1919-1998) began a 30-year career as a writer/director toiling in the netherworld of Korean commercial cinema. Originally a dentist, he went into the movies courtesy of his wife (also a dentist), who agreed to finance his new career. Without written evidence, one can only speculate about her reaction to what her money bought -- films like The Housemaid (1960), a dazzling black-and-white melodrama about unbridled lust, suicide, abortion, infanticide, and a strategically placed bottle of rat poison.
Kim traps his characters -- weak, horny music teacher; greedy, ambitious wife; obnoxious crippled child; violently insane nanny -- in some of the most suffocating mise en scenes on record, and adds to the tone of nervous hysteria with relentless, nerve-jangling background music. Scenes like the housemaid crawling across the floor to lick the exposed leg of her goody-goody employer, who's paralyzed with lust and guilt, give a kind of timeless squalor to the proceedings. Promise of the Flesh (1975) is a remake of a Korean classic called Late Autumn, but true to form, Kim emphasizes lust over lyricism in the story of a no-exit love affair between two prisoners on a train. As in all his films, there's a social critique for those who aren't distracted by the admittedly enthralling sex and violence; impersonal camera surveys of gigantic rotting buildings and dream homes filled with rats say as much about postwar industrialized Korean society as the unforgettable images of desperate people undone by fate. Fans of fractured subtitles will also find much to love here in passionately zany dialogue like "He's the social pest; a trash!"