3:30 PM, Thursday April 27

7:30 PM,  Sunday April 30 
Introduced by Dr Russell Edwards

Randwick Ritz

Director: Kim Ki-young
Country: South Korea
Year: 1977
Runtime: 110 minutes
Rating: U15+
Language: Korean, English subtitles

“It's amazing. Not only to discover a true artist of film named Ki-young, but also to discover totally unpredictable art through his works." – Jean-Michel Frodon, Cahiers du cinema

Our closing film, Kim Ki-Young’s startling Ieoh Island, begins Cinema Reborn’s two-year partnership with the Australia-Korea Foundation to celebrate Korean cinema history and the work of the Korean Film Archive in preserving its heritage.

The rapid industrialization of South Korea in the 1970s forms a backdrop for this genre-bending tale of a businessman accused and acquitted of murdering a man from Ieoh Island. Intent on developing a tourist resort but also uncovering the truth behind the murder, he has a life-changing encounter: a ruling matriarchal society of female divers who live “according to the old traditions”. Regarded as a giant in Korean cinema, Kim Ki-young delighted in transgressing the expectations of critics and audiences with his intense psychosexual melodramatic horror films. 

Ancient mythology collides with environmental degradation…a female society must reconcile the masculine destruction…with their increasingly desperate need for any man to provide the precious sperm to keep the population going and ward off evil spirits.” — Patrick Dahl

Kim focuses on portraying the clash between the modern and the traditional, the money-driven capitalism and the superstition-filled folklore.” — Panos Kotzathanasis

The 7:30pm screening on Sunday 30 April will be introduced by Dr Russell Edwards, a university tutor in film studies at Monash University, film critic and a contributor to the forthcoming publication The Films of Kim Ki-young (2023).

Presented with the support of the Australia-Korea Foundation.

By Darcy Paquet
Reprinted by Kind Permission of the author, and

Kim Ki-Young
Born in Seoul, 1922. Graduate of Dentistry School, Seoul National University. After working as a performer, as well as a director of those performances, he debuted as a film director in 1955 with The Box of Death. It was followed by more than 30 film works, including The Housemaid (1960), The Sea Knows (1961),Woman of Fire (1971) and Chungnyeo (1972).

“Kim Ki-Young began his career making pro-American propaganda, then went on to specialize in pieces of psychological horror, usually melodramas filled with themes of sexual obsession. He first made his name in that arena with The Housemaid whose lusty young title character makes her way into and gradually destroys a previously untroubled middle-class household. That movie, now widely considered one of Korea’s finest, came out in 1960. That year began an abundant decade in Korean cinema, despite the restrictions the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee would place on the film industry after seizing power in 1961.” (Colin Marshall, BLARB: the blog of the Los Angeles Review of Books)

After the acclaim of The Housemaid, Kim was one of the the most successful Korean film director of the 1960s. But in the early 1970s, and during a period of strict censorship and control in South Korea, Kim’s career stalled. His 1975 film Ban Geoum-ryeon (aka The Story of Pan Jinlian) was initially banned, then not released until 1981, minus 40 minutes of footage. His following films largely failed both critically and at the box office. From the mid 1970s and through the 1980s, Kim Ki-young worked on his own, largely self-funded, low-budget productions, and under harsh conditions. After the failure of Carnivorous Animal (akaBeasts of Prey) in 1984, he was largely forgotten by the Korean film industry for more than a decade.

But in the early 1990s, Kim was acknowledged again as a master of Korean cult movies and in the spotlight in South Korea and abroad once more, especially after the retrospective screening of his films in 1997 at the then newly-established Busan International Film Festival. By early 1998 he was preparing a new feature, and planning a retrospective of his films at the Berlin Film Festival. However, on 5 February 1998 Kim Ki-young and his wife were killed in a house fire, caused officially by an electrical short circuit.

Kim’s reputation has only grown since his death. In 2008 The Housemaid was restored by Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, and received renewed, global acclaim. Films such as Goryeojang (1963), Woman of Fire and Ieoh Island(1977) have also been restored by the Korean Film Archive, and successfully re-released in Seoul cinemas.

“It's amazing. Not only to discover a true artist of film named Kim Ki-young, but also to discover totally unpredictable art through his works.”- Jean-Michel Frodon, former editor-in-chief of Cahiers du Cinéma.

The Film
It may be no accident that one of Korean cinema's most compelling, unnerving depictions of the primal forces that drive humankind was conceived during the mechanizing, industrializing era of the 1970s. As the military government pushed ahead with an all-out campaign for modernization, the warped genius of the cinema Kim Ki-young was busy shooting a film that peels off the many layers of modern society to expose human experience at its most primitive.

Ieoh Island is centered on an island off the south coast of Korea populated by women who live off the sea, and who structure their lives "according to the old traditions". Removed from the modern influences of the mainland, the island stands as a detached society where ancient customs prevail and the local shaman wields a great deal of power. When one of the island's native sons (Choi Yoon-seok), who had gone to the mainland, disappears off the deck of a tourist ship, a businessman (Kim Jong-cheol) suspected of killing him travels to the island in hopes of uncovering the truth behind the man's disappearance. This visitor comes to learn the tangled history of the man's supposedly cursed lineage, while also getting caught up in the affairs of the island himself.

Not an easy film to absorb in one sitting, Ieoh Island is told through a complex structure of flashbacks (each flashback signalled by the sound of bubbling water) that slowly lead us to an understanding of the film's central narrative. The film juxtaposes and contrasts modern and traditional social practices, from environmental activism and aquaculture to superstitious rites and exorcisms. But what unites the primitive and the contemporary is an obsession with procreation. Whether for humans, pigs, or artificially farmed abalone, the ability or inability to successfully reproduce determines the fate of nearly everyone in the film.

From the opening shots of this work, Kim Ki-young dispenses with any pretext of pursuing psychological realism. With its breathless tempo, sudden detours, highly dramatized dialogue and extreme close-ups, the film revels in its own unpredictability and force. This, combined with the zoom shots, dated hairstyles and cheap special effects, makes the film seem at first to be inviting parody. Yet Ieoh Island’s genius lies in the cohesiveness and weight of its central themes, together with its strange, unexpected beauty.

One unforgettable element of this work is the mesmerizing performance of Lee Hwa-shi as a barmaid who works on the island. Lee Eun-shim's turn in Kim Ki-young's Housemaid may rank as the most astonishing performance in 1960s Korean cinema, but Lee Hwa-shi's collaboration with the director in the late 1970s and early 1980s is no less of an achievement. Seven of her first ten films, which were shot between 1976 and 1981, were directed by Kim, and the intensity, sensuality and intellect which she brings to the screen is the perfect complement to Kim's madly inspired direction.

However, what viewers inevitably talk about as they file out of a screening of Ieoh Island is its ending. The penultimate scene culminates with one of the most brazen, jaw-dropping sequences ever shot by a Korean director. It goes without saying that this image was censored from the film's release print in 1977, but an uncut version was exported to Japan, and so modern-day viewers can enjoy Ieoh Island in all its glory. Thank god for that, because this film is the very opposite of cheap thrills, or shock for shock's sake. It's one of the best Korean films ever made.

The Restoration
Restored by KoFA, the Korean Film Archive

이어도, Ieodo, Io Island | Director: KIM Ki-young | South Korea | 1977 | 110 mins | 2K Scope DCP (orig. 35mm, 2.35:1) | Colour | Mono sd. | Korean with Eng. Subtitles | U/C15+

Production Company: Dong-A Exports Co. Ltd. | Producer: LEE Woo-seok | Script: HA Yu-sang, from Lee Chung-Joon’s novel | Photography: JEON Il-seong | Editor: HYEON Dong-chun | Art Direction: LEE Myeong-su | Music: HAN Sang-gi.

Cast: LEE Hwa-shi (‘Barmaid Sohn Min-ja’), KIM Jeong-cheol (‘Sun Wu-hyun’), CHOI Yun-seok (‘Cheon Nam-seok’), KWON Mihye (‘Park Jung-ja’), PARK Jeong-ja (‘Shaman’), PARK Am (‘Editor’).

Cinema Reborn acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live, learn and work. We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.