Golden Lion winner still struggling in South Korea

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By YOUKYUNG LEE, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean director who won this year's Golden Lion award for best movie at the Venice Film Festival expressed hope Tuesday that it will encourage theater owners who have shunned his works at home to screen more independent movies like his.

"This prize was very important," Kim Ki-duk told his first news conference after returning to South Korea. "I thought movie theater officials and theater owners will open their doors a little bit wider if I took this prize."

Kim's "Pieta," the brutal story of a debt collector who cripples those who can't pay until he meets a woman who claims to be his mother, won the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice Film Festival on Saturday.

While Kim has frequently been invited to international film festivals during his 16-year career, in South Korea his 17 previous movies saw little commercial success. Critics say his use of explicit violence and depiction of female characters as victims or subordinates to men also hurt efforts to draw audiences.

A few big corporations known as chaebol dominate South Korea's film industry — three controlled 83 percent of theaters in 2010 according to one estimate — leaving few screens for independent moviemakers. Some of Kim's past movies played in fewer than five theaters.

"Even a good-natured person will feel anger in this kind of unfair monopoly," Kim said.

Kim, 51, is seen as an outcast in South Korea's film industry. He said he considered leaving for countries that welcomed his work.

Despite his disappointment with the local movie business, he said the prize was a coup not just for him but for the entire film industry. He said he even considered singing the national anthem while accepting the award. Instead, he sang a South Korean folk song in lieu of a speech.

Kim, who received no formal education beyond elementary school, has said his lack of schooling has been a source of inferiority feelings and insecurity throughout his life. Instead of going to school, he began working as a manual laborer when he was 15.

In "Pieta," low-income laborers left behind in South Korea's rapid economic rise are victims of a debt collector's brutal violence.

Kim said "Pieta" is about an "extreme form of capitalism" but also touches on revenge, family and forgiveness.

"I felt sad that our lives could be destroyed by money," he said.

He also wanted to show that redemption can take place in everyday life, not just after death, he said.

"I hope there will be fewer losers who grow up with a sense of insecurity," Kim said.

Before writing his first movie script in his 30s, Kim briefly studied religion, made a living as a street painter in France and enlisted in the South Korean military.

Kim said he will not accept money from big-name investors even after winning the Golden Lion and will continue funding his movies from his own pockets or from profits from other movies.

The budget for "Pieta" was 150 million won, or less than $140,000.

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