The usually reliable Sight & Sound called Kim Ki-duk
someone who hides exploitation behind arthouse pretensions.
Or, in less closet-conformist words, he's someone who pushes
boundaries much more than arthouse purists can imagine (or
sometimes bear), thus creating polarized opinions. The
Isle, Real Fiction and Address Unknown are all
uncompromising works, which require an open mind towards filmmaking
style. Kim is never afraid to juxtapose beauty with brutality,
or vulgarity with touching, delicate moments. He's also very
instinctive in his approach towards storytelling. His plots
are never obvious, often uneven but more importantly, always
possessing of raw emotional power. Bad Guy is one of
his best films, and perhaps the one featuring the best balance
of the two worlds, beauty and brutality. Also, its message
might be more accessible than Kim's previous works.
We're introduced to Han-gi (Jo Jae-hyoun)
and Sun-hwa (Seo Won) in a shocking manner: while talking
with her boyfriend, Sun-hwa gets assaulted by the menacing
Han-gi, forcing a kiss on her. It turns out Han-gi, touched
by her beauty, is trying to recruit her to become a call girl
in a Red Light District. The film explores the bond that forms
between the two, developing the characters and their personality.
Han-gi at first seems like a reject of society. He never speaks,
bears a menacing look, has no manners, and has no interest
in people's feelings. However, he's more complex than that
as his current behavior is the result of emotional turmoil
and negative past experiences. At first, Sun-hwa loves to
hate him, but she finds out soon that he is different from
what she expects.
The film speaks a lot in metaphorical
terms, and often defies realism and logic. But - and this
is the strength of the film - Kim Di-duk loves his characters,
and creates something that hits emotionally as much, if not
more, than conventional melodrama. His characters are flawed,
but empathy soon turns into sympathy because at heart one
can relate to them.
Sensitive viewers could be turned
off by the extreme ways in which Kim develops the characters.
He presents a relationship based on raw instincts, which could
just as easily be mistaken for abuse. But, Kim's interest
is in exploring the fact that there's beauty in what we consider
"ugly" or "bad". It's just up to us to find it and
appreciate it. The fact that Sun-hwa willingly continues to
prostitute herself after getting to know Han-gi seems to to
be a detail that objectifies women, but I see it as emotional
fulfillment. She finds someone who is really interested in
her and connects emotionally with her, and for once not only
because she's beautiful. And even if she may not like the
consequences of a relationship with him, the feeling between
them is too important for her to give up.
Both leads are excellent, giving
multi-faceted performances that make their characters real,
even if the premise may lead you to think otherwise. This
is a film that works more on facial expressions and emotional
release than dialogue. One scene in particular, where Han-gi
finally speaks, is incredibly powerful, and does more to redeem
the character than anything else could do. The film features
unusual, but interesting musical choices (a song in Italian,
the end credits one in German, which if anything reveal the
director's European influences), and Kim's usual flair for
great visual composition. He creates a tone that's never too
intrusive - both in the more extreme sexual scenes as well
as the violent ones - and is more interested in the emotional
consequences of the act instead of voyeurism. Bad Guy
shows Kim Di-duk has improved over the years. His films are
becoming more polished, interesting and emotionally involving.