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South Korean director Kim Ki-duk on the red carpet for his film Human, Space, Time and Human at the 68th annual Berlin International Film Festival. Photo: EPA

South Korean director rejects sex abuse claims at Berlin film fest

A South Korean director defiantly rejected abuse accusations against him at the Berlin film festival on Saturday, saying he ensures no one “suffers” on the sets of his ultraviolent, sexually explicit art films.

Acclaimed filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who has picked up prizes at the Cannes, Venice and Berlinale festivals, faced a barrage of questions from reporters about allegations of physical and sexual abuse by an actress he worked with in 2013.

His invitation to Berlinale prompted the actress to accuse festival organisers of “hypocrisy” given the organisers have said they want to put the spotlight on rampant sexual misconduct in the industry.

Kim, 57, insisted that “safety and respect” are top priority in all of his productions.

“We don’t want anyone hurt while making a film. We don’t want anyone to suffer when making a film,” he told a news conference, speaking through an interpreter. “No matter how fantastic a film is, we must make sure that nobody feels insulted during shooting and that applies for everybody, both cast and crew. That’s been my fundamental approach therefore I very much regret this incident.”

Asked whether he wished to apologise for his treatment of the actress, who has declined to be publicly named, Kim insisted he was unaware of any wrongdoing on his part.

File photo from December 2017 of staff holding a white screen in Seoul while an anonymous South Korean actress speaks from behind it during a press conference in which she accused Kim Ki-duk of abusing her. Photo: AFP

“What we were actually doing was rehearsing a scene. We were on the set, there were a lot of people present. My crew back then did not object at all or say that it was inappropriate,” he said. “I don’t remember exactly what happened but it really was related to artistic performance, to the acting. I believe that the actress interpreted this incident differently than I did.”

Prosecutors dropped the sex abuse charge citing lack of evidence but fined Kim five million won (US$4,600) for assault under a procedure to settle minor cases out of court.

Kim during the press conference for Human, Space, Time and Human. Photo: EPA

The actress – who said she quit acting due to trauma – has appealed against the decision to dismiss the sex abuse allegation.

But Kim said for him the case was closed.

“There’s been a ruling in this case now and I’ve shouldered the responsibility,” he said. “I don’t entirely agree with the ruling but I believe that these processes are also part and parcel of changing the system and helping us to make progress in the film industry. I’ll certainly bear this in mind in future as well.”

Kim was in Berlin to present his latest picture Human, Space, Time and Human, which like many of his films includes brutal rape scenes.

He insisted his films’ often violent content did not reflect his own behaviour.

South Korean actor Lee Sung-jae, Japanese actress Mina Fujii and South Korean director Kim Ki-duk on the red carpet for Human, Space, Time and Human at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 17, 2018. Photo: EPA

“I would like to be a good human being in my life,” he said. “My daily life is not like my films and I wouldn’t like to live that way. So please don’t draw conclusions about my personality because of looking at my films.”

Japanese actress Mina Fujii, who plays Eve in the film, an allegorical mother of humanity who is raped by five men on screen, said she had a good experience making the film.

“Working with Kim Ki-duk was very positive, there was a pleasant atmosphere on the set,” she said. “That may be a little bit surprising when you look at this rather particular film.”

Berlinale organisers had rebuffed criticism over Kim’s inclusion before the opening on Thursday, noting that the sex abuse allegation against him was dismissed and insisting the festival “opposes and condemns any form of violence or sexual misconduct”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: S Korean director in hot seat at Berlin fest