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Kim Ki-duk is known for being as profane as he is prolific; one of his more notable films is the Oedipal nightmare Moebius. With Geumul he retains some of the absurdity but grounds it with a human story about the North-South divide in Korea.

Through sheer bad luck Nam Chul-woo (Ryoo Seung-bum) is turned into a pawn for the competing ideologies of the two Koreas. Ryoo is entrancing as he imbues his everyman with a tragic grace. A scene where he is being forced to smile for the camera is just as gut-wrenching as another moment where a fellow North Korean is driven to suicide by biting out his own tongue

It would be easy to present the powers of Seoul as the ultimate saviour while vilifying the Pyongyang dictatorship. Yet the film avoids easy moralising and is all the more rewarding for it. Rather than a bastion of hope, the film portrays the South Korean state as hypocritical. Apart from his guard, the South Korean characters are unable to see why Chul-woo is desperate to return to North Korea because their capitalist mindset turns a concept like family into an easily replaceable commodity.

Such acidic observations are thanks to Kim Ki-duk’s sharp script. Admittedly, the pace dawdles in the middle as Chul-woo continually gets tossed around by the powers that be in repetitive fashion. However, these minor scenes provide the final act with an emotional climax, that is at once poetic in its beauty yet soul-sickeningly tragic at the same time.

By comparing the crimes of both Koreas, Geumul risks providing a false-equivalency argument, but it just about works. Kim Ki-duk succeeds in offering a more complex perspective on a political situation that is all too often joked about in the West.



CAST: Ryoo Seung-bum, Lee Won-gun, Kim Young-min, Choi Guy-hwa 

DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk

WRITER: Kim Ki-duk

SYNOPSIS: When the engine on his boat fails, North Korean fisherman Nam Chul-woo accidentally drifts into South Korea, where he’s accused of being a spy before being asked to defect. All he wants is to be reunited with his family.