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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Intangible Asset No. 82
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by Jay Seaver

"Korean culture road trip!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: "Intangible Asset Number 82" seems to have become a fascinating movie almost by accident. Certainly director Emma Franz would have covered much of the same material if things had gone according to plan, but when life hands you a road movie, you roll with it.

Simon Barker is a jazz drummer, and a great one; likely Australia's best, and one of the best in the world. Part of the reason for that is that he takes interest in and draws inspiration from music from all around the world, and lately he's become fascinated by a drummer from South Korea, Kim Seok-chul. The friend who gave him the recording hated it, but Barker was entranced by the work of this shaman. He made several trips to Korea to try and meet the man, but Kim is old and somewhat reclusive. One day Barker gets a note from a teacher, Kim Dong-won, who says a meeting may be possible. Barker comes to meet Dong-won, who is impressed not only with Barker's skill, but with his respect for the culture. He initiates contact with Seok-chul, but it will take some time; in the meantime, he takes Barker on a tour of South Korea to show him traditional Korean music and culture first-hand.

It's a fascinating trip from the very first stop, where we learn about pansori, a traditional form of Korean music, from practitioner Bae Il-dong. It is jarring, to say the least, perhaps seeming more like atonal shouting than music to western ears. Il-dong lives in a shed near a waterfall, where he trained himself for seven years. Practicing by the waterfall strengthens his voice, so that he can get through the marathon eight-hour singing sessions that a pansori singer needs to tell a story. Film-wise, it's a great place to start, as it really drives home just how different traditional Korean music is from traditional Western music, while getting us into the countryside and establishing what a strong tradition music has in the culture.

Franz may have rearranged the order of some events in the editing room, as there are some later points where it appears Il-dong has joined Barker and Dong-won on their trip. That's fine, though - better than fine, really, because the point of this movie isn't so much to chronicle as to teach, and the filmmakers are able to structure Intangible Asset Number 82 in chapters, with each title ("Energy", "Yin-Yang", "Relaxed Power", "Breath") giving us new insights illustrated by performance and demonstration. We see Barker integrating what he learns into his own work.

For all the educational aspects, part of what ties the movie together is that it is a road movie. Intangible Asset Number 82 wasn't going to be dry at any point - though Barker does not have a great voice for narration - but seeing Simon Barker and Kim Dong-won become friends over the course of the movie despite Dong-won's initial reservations gives it a more universal grounding that may make what is often some rather technical music discussion a little easier to swallow. And while I wouldn't suggest that all documentaries need to be structured as a narrative, there is something very satisfying at how Barker's eventual meeting with Kim Seok-chul would come at the end of a quest. This is a man whose contributions to (and representation of) South Korea's culture has been recognized as a treasure by the government (hence the movie's title); it should not be easy for an outsider to find him.

"Intangible Asset Number 82" is a somewhat specialized film. As clearly as it presents its information and as well as it is organized, one likely needs a pre-existing interest in finding out about other cultures and/or music (beyond "I like listening to/playing music", maybe even academic) to really get into this; even then, there are parts that may be slow going at times. For those that have that interest, though, it's a quite rewarding way to spend an hour and a half.

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originally posted: 03/30/09 00:23:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival For more in the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/07/10 Michael Hamblett deeply informing, inspiring, humbling. Beautifully photographed. 5 stars
4/03/09 Trent Jones Outstanding documentary - I learned something real. 5 stars
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  DVD: 13-Oct-2009


  DVD: 13-Oct-2009

Directed by
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