Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Truly Amazing LEODO

 Is the lure of the sea as strong as the lure of women for men? I think so -- speaking for myself, anyway. Men become prey to women the longer they swim in their arms. They can become more idiotic, too, surrendering principles, standards, and boundaries they once clung to.

Possibly the hardest film I've ever felt compelled to write about is Kim Ki Young's Leodo, an impossible to categorize meditation on Men and their relationship to Women. Although the drama is intimate, it's addressing broad, fascinating issues such as religion, fertility, mortality, environmental pollution, and mythology. Threaded through that heady brew is a sweeping existential adventure on par, and having much in common with, Robin Hardy's film of Anthony Shaffer's The Wicker Man.

Legend has it that Leodo is an island where the souls of drowning men are carried to safety. It can't be seen unless you're wrestling with death. The women of Parang Island, a mountainous, anti-Shangri-La, live in the strangling grip of old beliefs and irrational fears. A few desperate men, pathetic fellows all, venture to Parang to live off the women in exchange for seminal donations. All but one of the women -- a lithe, stunning beauty --  is past her child bearing years, so her nights are filled with fertility rituals that culminate in necrophilia, madness, and their accompanying pleasures.

As simple as this description sounds, Leodo, made in '76 but released in '80 is anything but. There are plots within plots and flashbacks within flashbacks.  Mr. Young, a profoundly underrated and fascinating filmmaker, whose The Housemaid was recently remade in Korea, made several films that defy explanation. Works like Leoda possess a directness, a lack of compromise, a raw originality that tastes like honey to palettes dulled by calculated Hollywood fare. Young has no concern that Leodo will or won't be accepted by audiences. He doesn't care. It will find an audience. The audience will find it. It is this brave approach to the material that makes Leodo so amazing.

Having just made a movie (fertISLE) on an isolated island myself, today's re-viewing of Leoda cemented my resolve to move forward with pure, untethered intention on future projects of similar financial design.  A low budget is high license, an open door through which to step on grounds of choice with shoes not heavied by false expectations. Leodo feels and lingers like raw experience, its ocean vistas haunted, its couplings like sad Bacon sketches, its emotions raw and red like freshly stabbed flesh.

Based on a novel called Keum Byeong Mae by Lee Cheong-joon, Leodo was substantially rewritten by the director to incorporate a premise in which a developer is using the mythical island of Leoda as a marketing tool. On a ferry ride to neighboring Parong, there is an altercation between an executive of the company and an ex-islander. Thus results in the disappearance of the islander and a murder accusation. The accused, not charged, travels to Parong with a newspaper reporter to find the missing man.


Poster for the director's The Housemaid; I looked high and low for Leodo poster art,
but I came up empty-handed. If you find any, let me know, please.

In the majority of Young's movies, men are portrayed as poor, helpless devils, unable to control their primitive urges. The pleasures they pursue are portrayed as the overrated fantasies they actually are, mindless pursuits just as easily achieved with a bout of intense masturbation. "Prey for Queen Bees," is how one Korean critic described the status of Leoda's unfortunate males.

What Leodo explores in grand style is a concubine-like social structure that is torn apart by its lack of rules.  It's too casual, lacking perhaps the fascist discipline required to support and contain such a structure. Although the regressive desire to crawl into a woman's womb and die permeates proceedings, even these poor souls with penises are unable to get it right, so steered off course are they by the demon ego.

Leodo is part of the four-film Kim Ki Young Collection, a stunning set also featuring the films The Insect Woman (72), Goryeojang ('63), and Promise of the Flesh ('75).

The director died horribly in '98. He was burnt to death in a house fire. 


  1. is this one also titled "ieodo"?

  2. Paul -- yes, it has been known to get around with that title.