When I first read about Kim’s Video, the legendary video store in New York City that housed an unusual and one-of-a-kind collection of films from all over the world, the concept of making a documentary about this precious relic immediately captivated me. After all, I came of age during the heyday of video rental stores and saw firsthand how these establishments were rendered obsolete by the advent of online streaming services like Netflix. It seems like Kim’s Video was a documentary made specifically for people who grew up in that generation and are passionate about movies.
And that’s exactly what it is in a lot of different ways. It was fascinating to hear how the proprietor, a Korean immigrant named Yongman Kim, moved from operating a dry cleaning business to establishing a group of video rental outlets under his name. It was immediately obvious that he enjoyed watching movies. In addition to housing films produced by big studios, Kim would send employees to film festivals in search of films that he was aware had a slim chance of ever being released commercially and then bring such films back to his store. In an era before the internet, he rented out illegal copies of movies unavailable to the general public. Even at one time, the FBI conducted a search warrant on his property.
He seemed to be the epitome of cool, being able to appreciate the value of film regardless of the picture’s budget or the genre in which it was made. The narrative took an even more bizarre turn when he closed his store and, rather than donating his collection to New York University, he gave it to a local museum in a small town in Italy. In the years that followed the initial hoopla of the collection’s migration to this Italian village, the memory of the collection also faded in people’s minds. The collection was moved to the little town of Salemi, which was not particularly known for its arts scene. The town itself was enmeshed in mafia links and corruption.
When it comes to their feature film about Kim’s Video, directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin get a little too buried in the story’s details. First of all, the fact that Redmon is the one who narrates the documentary gives it the feel of a journal at times. During the movie, he investigates the events surrounding the video collection. He mentions movies such as “Citizen Kane” and “The Mirror” by Andrei Tarkovsky in the same sentence as his mission to discover the truth about what happened to the video collection.
When it comes to Kim’s Video, there are so many interesting stories to tell — whether it’s Yongman Kim’s personal history with film or the involvement of the Italian mafia and law enforcement — that Redmon’s narration feels like it’s getting into the way of telling those stories. For some, the involvement of a documentarian in their documentary can add a personal touch to the film. By the time the documentary was over, I had the impression that I knew too much about Redmon’s life and not nearly enough about the topic that was being covered in the movie. And that’s a bummer, since it’s abundantly evident from the snippets we do see into the tale behind Kim’s Video that they need to expand it into a much longer film with much more inquiry and information.
Instead, we’re presented with a heist at the documentary’s end that feels self-indulgent. Redmon, Sabin, and their friends lean a bit too far into the world of Ocean’s Eleven, donning masks with the faces of Agnès Varda or Jean-Luc Godard to enact some sort of vigilante justice for the videos. The documentary is a bit too playful, with Redmon and Sabin leaning a bit too far into the world of Ocean’s Eleven. Although it’s adorable and, in the end, a success for the physical media, we spend far too much time with them. The thing is, I don’t care about Redmon’s journey with cinema; I care about the story of Kim’s Video. When something as strange and unbelievable as this story is out there, I want to know about every element of it that there is to know about it. Only until I have been properly regaled would I take auxiliary stories from the filmmaker.
Because Kim’s Video by Redmon and Sabin is unfinished and a little bit too self-absorbed to do justice to such a fascinating narrative, I hope someone else will decide to tell the story of Kim’s Video again one day. In the meantime, I can only hope that someone else will. I left my screening completely unsatisfied and wanted additional information about the topic. I had only a cursory understanding of the situation, the kind of information I could have gotten from a news article rather than from a documentary that had access to the people involved. Kim’s Video is about one man’s fascination with film, but that man isn’t Kim, and it isn’t any of the other individuals in the video. It’s the director of the documentary himself.
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