Although billed as a documentary, Kim Ki-duk’s latest film is closer to a film-maker’s journal. There is no plot or simple message; more a set of meditations and musings by one of South Korea’s more idiosyncratic directors on how his work relates to his national identity, his philosophy and his recent life. Although it is hard to determine how true any of the details in it really are, the film centers around an incident that occurred during the shooting Kim Ki-duk’s previous film Dream; actress Lee Na-young’s near fatal accident during a hanging scene has provoked Kim Ki-duk to spend 3 years in exile, with a stove and selection of home-made coffee makers as company.

On first glance this film bears little resemblance to Kim Ki-duk’s previous work. The minimal dialogues, the grainy 35mm textures and the spraining narratives of Samitan Girl and 3-Iron are gone, replaced with jittery cuts, unedited sound and recurring visual motifs. These motifs are the most Ki-dukian aspects of the film. Particularly vivid is the clerical depiction of food. It is prepared, digested and studied in an almost mechanistic fashion, reminiscent of The Isle. This obsessive focus on the daily routines of Kim Ki-duk’s life provides some balance to the philosophical oratories of the film.

They are mainly in the form of Kim Ki-duk using different personas to interview himself. They explore the motivation for his previous films and the reasons for his exile. Explanations run from his views on mortality to the artistic obstacles of large numbers of film crew. The most provoking topics concern Kim Ki-duk’s relation to South Korean culture; his films are often critical of South Korean society and yet also a source of international acclaim for the country. This question of identity is never fully resolved, frequently ending in melancholic performances of the anthem ‘ Arirang’.

These lamenting acapellas bring unwelcome attention to the purpose of the film. It is clear that the making of Arirang was a form of therapy for Ki-duk. He casts away phobias by placing himself in the spotlight. Unfortunately self-awareness of this fact does not stop us questioning the value of being audience to his treatment, particularly as the visual and dramatic experiments never feel fully developed. It often feels this is less for art’s-sake and more for Kim’s sake.

If I were recommending an introductory film to Kim Ki-duk this is not the one I would pick. The lack of distinctive imagery and serpentine plot trajectories from his previous work is sorely missed. However there are moments of brilliance in this film, particularly the use of Ki-duk’s camera and editing software as structural devices. For aspiring directors/filmmakers there is a lot of potentially interesting material. For the rest of us though, this will likely be seen as the start of a distinct new aesthetic within Kim Ki-duk’s work.