REAL FICTION is a film by Kim Ki-Duk and was released during the same year as "The Isle". It wasn't surprising that this film didn't receive as much attention as the aforementioned film. "The Isle" was a beautiful film and "Real Fiction" is more a slice of conventional cinema. Kim is one of South Korea's most controversial directors, he has an outcast reputation in his native land. During the time of this film, Kim was very vocal on how Koreans couldn't appreciate a low-key, methodical approach to film-making, that the Korean people are always into the more commercial releases and he was always under fire by Korean media. This film is a bold experiment in Korean cinema, shot in real time (in only 3 hours, in one day) with the help of 12 other directors and a very limited staff. If this film is any indication, Kim may be trying to say that he is often misunderstood and definitely under-appreciated by his countrymen and women.
A street portrait artist has been the target of constant abuse, finally gets tired of the constant harassment he has been on the receiving end for years. His talents have been used and abused by other people, customers insulting his sketches, constant bullying by thugs, he has little if no reason to be happy. One day, he reaches a breaking point after a customer tears up a portrait. He decides to inflict fierce retribution against all the people who've wronged him in the past.
Kim Ki-Duk getting into the mind of a serial killer? You know you're in for more than a simple "slasher" film. Kim is a master of subtle cinema with metaphors and symbolism as his main approach. The people who are in the killer's "hit list" are given such insights that they become more than just victims, they become significant characters in the proceedings. It felt like a series of short subtle stories based on a metaphor of the nature of life and its bleakness. We see a man constantly looking for self- respect that eluded him for most of his life. People can have their own ways and means, choices and perspective, even above the scope of the killer. The film also has some subtle metaphors in the antagonist's psyche; such as a drunken man representing his fury and frustration. Another character in the film is a woman holding a camera that may well be a representation of society's opinion who instigates his aggressive turn.
By concept, "Real Fiction" is an ambitious project with a naturalist approach with Kim's familiar voyeuristic style in "Bad Guy". The end result is a film that seems so organic and natural. No music, no lush photography, just a film shot in its entirety in 3 hours in one day. Most of Kim's films barely have any dialogue, and the antagonist fulfills this feel. This methodical approach serves to give the viewer an "edgy" feel and somewhat signifies honesty in its proceedings. The film also incorporates certain commentaries about the media who seems to enjoy unfortunate events (milk the news about them) and how people seem to celebrate other folks' misfortunes.
I've been following Kim Ki-Duk's work ever since my first experience with "The Isle". I've read that the production of this film reflects the position he found himself in at the time. Kim's position as an outcast director has made him a target of criticism by the very people he has been trying to please. The woman following the lead character somehow fits a very close parallel for the Korean media with Kim. At the time, the media is believed to be righteous and incapable of wrongdoing and how they made him into an outcast for fighting back. Much of Kim's films enjoy more international acclaim than in his native land. It is only recently that he started to get the appreciation he rightfully deserves.
For all its simplicity, "Real Fiction" turned out to be a very interesting film and serves somewhat as a commentary on how Kim felt towards the media during that time. There is a lot of subtle "I don't care what you think" dispersed through the proceedings. Cleverly and with very subtle display, Kim Ki-Duk has managed to combine the film's narrative and a social commentary; most especially his scrutiny against the Korean media. Man, I love directors like this!
Ultimately, Real Fiction is worth a look, it is a very different "arthouse" take in the mind of a serial killer with a very confident and calculating execution.