Kim’s Video review: A cinephile investigates a lost video collection in this lively documentary [Sundance 2023]

Yongman Kim
Yongman Kim from the documentary Kim’s Video. Pic credit: Carnivalesque Films

David Redmon has a cinematic obsession. In Kim’s Video, he narrates the documentary while making countless references to other films he admires and films he discovered at an iconic video rental store.

The film directed by Ashley Sabin and Redmon, which played at Sundance Film Festival, sees the filmmakers seamlessly cutting images of classic films throughout the narrative to either explain a feeling or to convey an idea. While doing so, Redmon lays out a tragic tale of one of the most legendary video stores, Kim’s Video.

The documentary conveys the ginormous influence the store had on cinephiles around New York. But as the film explains, the store eventually shut down, and the massive collection of 55,000 plus titles had to find a new home.

Redmon gives the audience a glimpse of the influence Kim’s Video had on his life and worldview. The store itself approached its collection of titles with rebellious fashion. The owner, Yongman Kim, had zero concern for the consequences, while he abused copyright rules and recorded rare films to be rented out to the public. In summary, if the rap group NWA were a video rental store, it would be Kim’s Video.

The documentary explains how Kim’s Video contained an extremely eclectic collection of movies from small corners of the world.

This ideology of art being seen at all costs inspires Redmon to hunt down the 55,000 titles once owned by Kim. As Redmon digs to locate these obscure films, his investigation leads him to discover the entire film catalog took an interesting journey to eventually end up in the hands of a successor. Watching Redmon navigate this path of strange characters with shifty motives is the crux of this film.

A fast-moving message about ‘art being for everyone’

The best documentaries become something so much more than intended, and Kim’s Video accomplishes this feat. It begins with a movie geek playing Where’s Waldo? with a movie collection, then slowly evolves into a crazy labyrinth of discovery.

The editing keeps our attention using brisk pacing. It gets right to the point as the film takes the viewer moment-to-moment. We never see Redmon fly overseas or dip into unnecessary sidebar interviews that drag out the runtime.

And, the cinematic clips of familiar movies and obscure titles weaving in and out of the story make the approach to this documentary feel fresh.

However, there are some downsides to this. When the documentary throws us into a new country, it can feel jolting because we are trying to play catch-up.

Redmon will be in New York, then out of nowhere, in Sicily speaking to a politician. There are no visual cues such as superimposed words saying the location at each switch. However, the filmmakers here are wise enough to know the audience can most likely keep up with the pace.

Adding to this, the choices Redmon makes throughout this story are insanely bold. He is willing to place himself at risk at every opportunity, including breaking and entering. And bear in mind, he does so all in the name of a movie collection.

This might be the world’s craziest cinephile, but Redmon’s passion rewards the viewing experience. In summary, Kim’s Video is proof that fortune favors the bold.

The documentary has a lot to say about art and who should own it. This is a common debate found among fanbases such as the Star Wars community. When the original Star Wars trilogy became “specialized,” there was a huge outcry about changing the films from their original format. Thus, spawning a debate over who owns the art once it is handed over — the artist or the person experiencing it?

A photo of VHS tapes from Kim's Videos.
A photo of VHS tapes from Kim’s Videos. Pic credit: Carnivalesque Films

Yongman Kim believes movies should be seen, no matter the costs. For example, if one cannot buy a movie in the U.S., then some argue piracy is acceptable. Kim would travel and record rare movies, then bring them back to his store so others could enjoy the experience. This made him an outlaw of sorts with federal officers.

The film’s climax sees Redmon taking extraordinary measures to accomplish the same mission as Kim. Redmon has no right to claim the videotapes but feels compelled for the sake of unearthing the elusive movies for public viewing. Not because the movies belong to him, Kim, or the sole beneficiary of the tapes, but simply because in his view, art belongs to everyone.

Kim’s Video is documentary candy for cinephiles

Because of the subject matter, it’s hard to measure the mass appeal of Kim’s Video. For example, one’s grandma who loved Tiger King might feel alienated from caring about the outcome. The documentary will be embraced majorly by the movie world. It’s a fun and fascinating investigative documentary that might be candy for cinephiles.

Furthermore, physical media enthusiasts will find lots to chew on here. Kim’s Video might even convert others to collect DVDs and VHS movies again.

If one is looking for a movie about a reckless guy who is obsessed with movies, to the point that he will put himself in harm’s way (or even be murdered) to get his hands on videotapes, this is the documentary to watch.

For more reviews, check out our coverage of M3gan and A Man Called Otto. Readers at Sundance can also read our list of most anticipated films at the festival.

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