Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2022 4:56 pm 
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[B]LEE IL-HA: I AM MORE 모어 (South Korea, 2021) NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL[/B]

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INTERVIEW

Documentary portrait of an elegant Korean trans dancer and drag queen


A New York Asian Film Festival blurb for this film describes it as "A compassionate, colorful documentary about Korean transgender trailblazer and fabulous drag queen 'MOre,' whose years of rigorous training as a ballerina culminate in an invitation to dance in New York." You can call MOre a "transgender trailblazer," but I'd say Mo-Jimin is the classiest drag queen you've ever seen. Mo-Jimin gets cast in a show in New York in June 2019, 13 Fruitcakes at Theater La MaMa, to commemorate the the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and this important event in the life of the well-known Korean drag performer is the pretext for this documentary.

Should one refer to MOre (or is it simply "More"?) as "he" or "she" or something else? In an online interview with MOre in Korean, MOre says he is "Not a woman or a man, but a person who lives in pursuit of beauty." His boyfriend calls him "him," so we'll do that, but we may slip into "she" and that's natural, MOre is gender-fluid. David Cameron Mitchell, Wikipedia tells us, in 2022 "came out as non-binary, but still chooses to be addressed by he/him pronouns."

We don't wind up seeing much of the New York 13 Fruitcakes show; the main focus is on MOre. We see dozens of clips of MOre in heavy makeup, with the longest fake eyelashes you've ever seen, nearly as long as Salvador Dali's mustaches sometimes, wearing fantastic costumes, twirling and posing in beautiful settings, including dancing quite convincingly on her toes in preparation for the Fruitcakes show, in a brand new pair of ballet pointe shoes. (Her gymnastic skill shows in her incredible balance.)

We learn MOre may have been barred from full ballet studies in Korea. However, some details remain a bit vague in I Am MOre. The film mainly blends clips of MOre's drag performances (or posing in magnificent drag, or naked, in outdoor settings) with footage of him in the present moment. We don't learn much about 13 Fruitcakes or the Korean company involved in it. Its website shows it is a celebration through vignettes of thirteen significant LGBTQ figures, including several Korean ones and Virginia Woolf, author of the gender-shifting novel Orlando. MOre says he is going to play Orlando. But he played multiple roles, and must have beenthe main or one of the main performers, though the film doesn't make that clear.

We regularly encounter MOre's big bearish longtime (Russian? 20-year?) boyfriend Zhenya, a Pokemon devotee, who plans to perfect his Korean while on an 18-month job-seeking visa and apply for citizenship but is currently out of work. In an earlier clip he doesn't look so big and bearish; they look more alike and more like a regular affectionate gay couple in speedos at the beach. MOre, petite, wafer-thin and disciplined, is a convincing ballerina, a small, light classical dancer. By the way, classical ballerinas tend to have flat chests, though MOre seems to pad his when in ballet garb sometimes.

We meet MOre's friendly parents and her sister. Growing up in the country, she may have experienced less bullying than - but not none. He went to study ballet at the Korean National University in Seoul, where right away, he says, a male ballet student knocked him down and said "get rid of the femininity." Homophobia was and is strong in Korea, and to illustrate that, "eradicate Queer" festival and several other overtly homophobic street events are glimpsed.

MOre meets up with a famous American gay icon, John Cameron Mitchell of the 1998 trans musical classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch, whom he had met in Korea years earlier. He recounts trying suicide in school before a test but throwing up the 50 pills and going in and taking the test. Later, in the army, she came out and as a result was classified as insane and sent to a mental hospital. At that time (many clips are shown) MOre discovered Itaewon (Itaewon-dong), Seoul's "party" and gay and drag district, and began dancing like crazy, and crazily, dancing all night, sometimes till he foamed at the mouth. She found joy, an escape from a life she saw as miserable. These moments are helter-skelter in the film's somewhat jerky progression that is held together by MOre and his serene, elegant, disciplined face.

Unfortunately when MOre sees Mitchell at his apartment in Manhattan it turns out he can't see 13 Fruitcakes; he has to be away that weekend to receive an award and perform in Provincetown. A sad letdown, but they hug and exchange gifts.

Though he says his being born with balls was a big mistake and he knew this from the beginning of his life, in a a revealing conversation with a prizewinning Korean transgender beauty MOre reveals he has given up the idea of surgery because it was always "too scary" and he has no regrets about that anymore, for one important reason because he knows that he has Zhenya's fully accepting love as he is. The film ends with a focus on the couple celebrating with sparklers at night, laughing and happy. The image that remains from this film is of MOre in a magnificent black costume posing in front of a grand building in the snow, but there is no still of this scene available, alas.

I Am More 모어 ("Mo-eo"), 121 mins., debuted Sept. 11, 2021 at DMZ Doc Fest, showing also at Busan Oct. 9, 2021. Screened for this review as part of the Jul. 15-31, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. North American Premiere

NYAFF SHOWTIMES: Sun., Jul. 24, 2022, 7pm at the Walter Reade Theater.

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