Kim’s Video

After starting it as a side hustle in his dry cleaning business, Yongman Kim opened his first video store in 1987, eventually branching out to a total of seven stores throughout Manhattan.  But by 2008, despite his store’s legendary status, the writing was on the wall.  Having amassed a collection of 55,000 titles including rarities and obscurities, Kim offered to donate it, but instead of going with one of the 40 schools and universities, like NYU, who offered to house it, he made the odd choice of shipping it to Salemi in Sicily.  Ten years later, no one knew what had happened to the collection from “Kim’s Video.”

Laura's Review: C

While the true story about the Kim’s Video collection is both weird and distressing, it could have been told a lot more effectively as a straightforward short.  Instead, this has become one of those films where the filmmaker becomes not only central to the story, but changes it, and a lot of questions remained unanswered.

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin direct, but it is Redmon who we hear and see here, beginning with his use of film clips from movies like “Paris, Texas,” “Poltergeist” and “Manos, Hands of Fate” to craft his own biography.  We then witness several former Kim’s Video employees and members enthusing about what a great place it was and how Kim would flaunt the law by bootlegging films he got from places like U.S. Embassies, a practice that would result in F.B.I. raids.  The store where you could rent subversive New York Indies celebrating the much grittier city of the 80’s was a film school for many.  We learn that the Coen brothers owed $600 in late fees when the store closed.

For what we will learn was an attempt by Salemi’s mayor and former Milan culture minister Vittorio Sgarbo to turn the town into an artists’ colony, an offer was made to not only house the 55,000 titles of the St. Mark’s Kim’s Video, but to digitize them, hold a perpetual film festival and always be open for former Kim’s Video members.  They even offered to provide sleeping quarters for the latter.  But when Redmon arrives in Salemi ten years later, he has trouble finding anyone who can speak English, even at the city’s tourist information center, but finally does learn that there is a ‘Kim Centro’ which will require a car to get to and is closed.  He arrives to find an unattended building with an unlocked door and lets himself in to find stacks of mismanaged videotapes, many having suffered water damage.  Then an alarm goes off.

There are intimations of mafia involvement and a search for Mr. Kim who also becomes a shady character when we now hear employees describing him as ‘scary and he agrees to meet Redmon at a facility he says used to house the ‘KCIA.’  In addition to the innuendo, there is a lot of Atlantic hopping as Redmon brings Kim to Salemi (and stands next to a potential mafia figure who we are later told is acquitted of mafia ties?!) in an attempt to get the collection back, but ends with Kim stating he has no authority over it (and Kim ends up coming across as a pretty normal guy).

While the subject matter is intriguing, there is a whole lot of manufactured drama going on as the film progresses, culminating in Redmon making a fictional heist film to ‘steal’ back the collection.  It’s no wonder this is being released by Drafthouse Films, as their CEO, Tim League, is turned into a heroic savior of a sort in that last act. 

Robin's Review: C

Kim Yong-man opened his first video store way back in 1987 and it grew to seven shops and carried some 55000 move title from mainstream to rare. But technology and a diminishing customer market forced the owner/collector to shutter the business in 2008 but tried to preserve the vast collection of “Kim’s Video.”

I was interested in the story of Kim’s video and the standard the man set in his shops for bringing rarely seen movies to the Lower East Side public. But, from the very beginning, the co-directors, David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, borrow heavily from the documentary style of Michael Moore, with one of the directors, Redmon, putting himself up front as a central, though unseen, character.

The film begins with the Redmon, off camera, stopping various pedestrians on the streets of New York, asking each, “where is Kim’s Video?” Now, keep in mind, Kim’s close in 2014 and the question was asked in 2023, so the answer to the question was, generally, “I don’t know.” This interviewer intrusion into the film’s fabric is distracting, just like with Moore.

What starts out as a historical document about an iconic Village video store soon turns into the mystery of what happened to the Kim’s Video collection of the over 55000 titles. This begins in a journey to Salami, Sicily where the collection was sent for exhibit and access to all of Kim’s video members.

This brings the filmmakers to Sicily to find the collection. Now, they are in a remote town in northern Sicily and ask questions of everyone – without an interpreter – about the location of the collection. Of course, no one speaks English and the documentary detectives stumble around until they find someone who speaks halting American. The manufactured aspect of the “investigation” took me out of the picture, especially when a faux heist of the collection is dramatized to introduce tension.

Aside from the filmmakers own intrusion into the so-called documentary and the “mystery’ (which is not a mystery but a case of incompetence), they also manufacture a back story about Mr. Kim. He is described as intimidating, but anything on the man does not support that claim. He is also defined as a former Korean CIA agent. None of it, though, is supported with fact. Again, many aspects of this documentary feel manufactured by Redmon and Ashley Sabin, diminishing my interest.

Drafthouse Films releases "Kim's Video" in NY and LA on 4/5/24, expanding on 4/12/24.