Many of South Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s films revolve around a protagonist who uses little to no words, as is the case with The Isle (Sŏm, 2000), Bad Guy (Nappŭn namja, 2001), and The Bow (Hwal, 2005). In each of these films, characters exist in a marginalized world, cut off from traditional society in the purest sense. Whether on a small fishing hut in the middle of a lake, at sea, or in a tauntingly cruel brothel, each of these three films establish a place of isolation within which the characters subsist. Though this silence manifests in different ways, each film individually explores peculiar relationships between those who remain mute (or nearly so) and those around them. Another common theme spanning across Kim’s filmography is that of brutal violence. The Isle and Bad Guy both utilize prostitution as a form of violence against females, but individually create worlds in which the characters are unforgivingly brutal. The Isle’s uncomfortable sexual violence and homicide interplay with the sexual taunting in Bad Guy as well as the strange and seeming sexual violation of the young girl in The Bow; all three forcing a certain ferocity upon the protagonists. The construction of such interpersonal relationships, while almost entirely taciturn, showcases the true cruelty of humans while interconnecting ideas of a peripheral existence and raw emotion. The overarching theme of violence, as is connected with each character’s muteness, leads each protagonist their near isolation from society and into a marginalized, singular existence. Through a close examination of The Isle, Bad Guy and The Bow, along with a brief look at the Kim’s inaugural film Crocodile (Ak ŏ, 1996), the violence of humanity and displays of ultimate aggression are agreeably common through the director’s work. Crocodile presents a clear picture of how Kim’s vision of vicious gore has adapted throughout his various films, establishing a core for the human aggression visible throughout many of the director’s work. The limited social interaction of his characters and the relationship between this silence and their ultimate aggression leads to a lonesome sense of isolation in The Isle, Bad Guy and The Bow. Each of the films suggests brutality in reaction to society’s impingement on the protagonist’s life. The classification of these protagonists as outsiders also helps relate each of them as so-called underdogs who are rarely given a chance to succeed in the traditional sense, instead forced to face their overwhelming emotional pain. The establishment of these recurring themes adds to other developed motifs including animal cruelty and prostitution. These overlapping themes create a sense of consistency throughout Kim’s work while also establishing a newfound sense of the relationship between silence and human brutality, reestablishing the lengths at which humankind is willing to go for love.
Damron, Emily, "Kim Ki-duk: The Silent Cases of The Isle, Bad Guy, and The Bow" (2013). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 340.