Berlinale Blog “K”: When Kafka meets Inner Mongolia

“K” by Emyr ap Richard, Darhad Erdenibulag
“K” by Emyr ap Richard, Darhad Erdenibulag | Photo (detail): © Bayin

Adapted from Kafka's “The Castle”, the Chinese film “K” interweaves a spatial maze of bureaucratic absurdity.

Like River Road (家在水草豐茂的地方), K is another example of Chinese ethnic cinema at this year’s Berlinale. It is an impressive project across national and ethnical boundaries. Being the second feature collaboration between Darhad Erdenibulag from Inner Mongolia and the Welsh director Emyr ap Richard, it adapts Kafka's German-language novel The Castle into the Mongolian context, with the landmark auteur of Chinese independent cinema Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯) being executive producer and Matthieu Laclau from France as cinematographer and editor.

K in Inner Mongolia

Contrasting with Michael Haneke's Austrian village covered in snow in the TV film The Castle, this time the long and curly haired land surveyor K traverses the boundless Inner Mongolian pasture and arrives in bright sunlight. Surrounded by dubious personalities and unpredictable regulations, this is a lonely battle of a man who refuses to conform to the whimsical machine of bureaucracy. As he is trapped in a labyrinthine indoor space, his struggle reflects itself on the film's spatial aesthetics.

A political parabel?

Lined-up hotel rooms, corridors, tavern lounge and classroom, all governed by the unseen and mysterious power of the Castle, form a net which gradually swallows him up. Often standing in a corridor with rooms on both sides, K does not have access to any. Aesthetic mismatches also enhance the sense of uncertainty and estrangement in space; light blue walls, dark blue earrings, green leaves, red carpets and yellow doors compose a mise-en-scène which is both enchanting and eerie; prolonged erotic scenes are accompanied by big band jazz music. K drifts in and out of slumber and consciousness, while both realities are the same undecipherable and malicious. It is tempting to think, maybe this Kafkaesque Inner Mongolia is some kind of a political parable?