I remember pondering all the possibilities of American influence on Japanese cinema upon initially entering into heavy film viewing. I would watch films like Vengeance Is Mine and Jigoku and find myself drawn to their similarities to what was being done in America during the era. I was quite certain that no other country displayed influences form The United States in quite a way, until I sat down to watch a relatively old Korean film in Kim Ki-Youngs Carnivore, also known as Beast of Prey and Carnivorous Animal. A film that is preoccupied with the fears of modernity, particularly those involving shifting gender norms and sexual power dynamics, Carnivore is melodramatic, cinematic and horrific all at once. I was a bit thrown off when reading that Kim Ki-Young's work was considered to be placed solidly within the horror genre upon initial release, but when viewing this narrative I found it to be fitting, although the work clearly flirts the lines of dark comedy as well. The movie offers no clear moments of redemption, nor does it provide a single good character, rather ironic for a film steeped in the traditions of melodrama. As has been the case for so many Korean films thus far, Carnivore does not succinctly fall into one single genre, in fact it is very much a hybrid of multiple genres, layered together, at times rather abrasively, but mostly with flawless precision.
Carnivore follows Kim Dong-sik, an aging securities firm employee, who is becoming forced to take a back seat to his wife's successful business ventures in transports. He begins to question his own masculinity and spends much of his time drinking at a local bar, which clearly doubles as a brothel. This action is only worsened by the fact that his wife also spends her evenings at a bar for women to meet young gigolos. During one particularly bad night, Kim blows a large some of money at the bar chatting with a young woman. The madame of the bar-brothel tells the young woman that she is responsible for obtaining his large bill and suggests she offer herself sexually to recoup the debt. Engaging in a rather brief sexual encounter in the back of Kim's car, the woman becomes infatuated with Kim and demands that they move in together. At first dismissive, Kim finally agrees to build two homes as he realizes his wife and himself are doomed for failure. Despite the concerns of his whole family, Kim engages in the two homes and finds himself revitalized by the lust and vivacity of a younger woman. However, the lines between his first family and his new mistress begin to blur and come to a climactic crash during a birthday celebration in which his family and lover are simultaneously present. The mistress, engulfed with jealously demands that Kim spend the night with her, an action that would directly break the agreement between his wife and the mistress. Regardless of the pact, Kim agrees to stay with dire results, after a fiery round of intercourse, the mistress stabs Kim and he falls down the stairs in defeat, just as his family enters the house to inquire to his tardiness. The film then closes with claims of the events being based off real events, a fact that I am unsure about.
I mentioned this film being squarely in the horror genre, much like Audition, much of the film seems rather mundane and unfit for the genre. However, for those of you who have seen Miike's dark work, it become clear in the back half of the film that it is something grotesque and completely horrific. The last thirty minutes of Carnivore certainly adhere to this notion between the stabbing and the slipping sanity of those involved within the bizarre love triangle. This bit of action, does not fully explain the horror within such a film though, instead the disturbing qualities within the film rest solely in the absurd, something that directors like Hitchcock used extensively in their horror works. Arguably, a viewer knows that what is being depicted is not normal; however, the characters within the narrative treat it as the usual, recall Vertigo if you have any questions. Between the unquestioned visits to gigolos and Kim being dressed as a baby, nothing is made to seem out of the ordinary. Even the agreement between Kim's wife and mistress seems bizarre, because it is done so with almost business like formality. It has been said that Korean audiences laughed loudly at many of the scenes within the film, I can imagine that it is due partly to the ridiculous scenarios depicted; however, I would also venture to say that it is from a bit of discomfort at the fears of such actions occurring as a result of modernity. I cannot claim this to be one of my favorite horror films, but the unusual approach to such a genre and its clear intention to mesh genres may very well make it one of my favorite genre hybrids. It is realized and incredibly scathing in its intentions.
Key Scene: The scene in which Kim begs for candy is absolutely brilliant...you will know it when it happens.
This films accessibility suffers from region locks and the like, yet, thanks to the Korean Film Archive it is instantly available, with subtitles, on Youtube. Please take advantage of this viewing opportunity before the film is inevitably removed for some stupid reason.