Home Magazine When Kim Ki Duk brought together Eastern and Western Culture: Pieta

“I was inspired by the ancient Greeks and Michelangelo”, said Kim Ki Duk during his speech at Venice Film Festival. It was 2012 and the Korean director was the hero of that edition thanks to his film Pieta. 

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Kim Ki Duk (1960-2020) died few months ago because of Covid-19. It was December, the movie master was in Northern Europe, in Latvia, to raise money for a new project that he wanted to develop. It was unexpected and a hard shock for the world of culture. 


Kim Ki Duk in Venice.


Back to 2012. Kim Ki Duk’s film overwhelmed everyone: Pietaovercame bad critics, polemics and controversies, arguments, and all those “minuets” for the award ceremony. Pietasplit the public and critics: on the one hand those claiming that the movie wasn’t a masterpiece, on the other those accusing the director for being too “punk” and his work for being a sacrilegious… Nevertheless, Pieta won, because it was an excellent, new project and its aesthetic melted together Eastern and Western cultures. 


Kim Ki Duk winning the Golden Lion in Venice, 2012, courtesy Venice Film Festival.


A significant and noteworthy gesture, we can say. Kim showed himself on the Festival stage with a pair of slippers on, he did not speak in English, but Korean, he thanked everybody, and he sang a song. His actions and attitude were new both for the city of Venice and for the Venice Film Festival (see his speach here). People were astonished. The director was representing something new inside the system. And the movie: Pietawon for the perfection of its scenes, photography, excellence and the refinement of the mise en scene. 


Kim Ki Duk, Pieta, a frame, courtesy the Director archive.


The Korean director dealt with some tragic peculiarities of Capitalism, the big “disease that ruins everything”, using them in comparison to episodes that belonged to the ancient Greek. To do so, he revived the aesthetic of Michelangelo masterpieces, that he personally saw in Rome: “la Pietà” and the Sistine Chapel. 

What he got from the sculpture by Michelangelo is for sure represented by the embrace of the Virgin Mary: Kim Ki Duk absorbed this scene and proposed it in the movie, as a symbolic frame that indicates the whole story. In the plot, the frame of the mother embracing the son is very different from the others. The entire movie has greys, dark and gloomy shades, as dark and gloomy as the world we all live in is. But then this mother and son, whose characters and shapes are taken from the Greek tragedy – the myth of Electra in Sophocles, who, together with her brother, killed the mother Clytemnestra, and again Oedipus and his mother Jocasta -. Kim Ki Duk then brought our culture again on his time and his culture, and this was the winner in Venice. 




Pieta, by Kim Ki Duk, 2012, courtesy Venice Film Festival.


Cover image: Kim Ki Duk Pieta, a frame, courtesy the Director archive.

Written by Rosella Farinotti

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