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Korean American Film Festival 2012: 'Dirty Hands' + 'Ultimate Christian Wrestling'

Dirty Hands

Two documentaries screening at the Korean American Film Festival look at performance as an act of faith.

Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe

Director: Harry Kim
Cast: David Choe
Rated: NR
Year: 2008
US date: 2012-06-10 (Korean American Film Festival New York)

Ultimate Christian Wrestling

Director: Jae-Ho Chang, Tara Autovino
Cast: "Modern Day Warrior" Rob Adonis, "God's Property" Billy Jack, Kody Jack, "Custodial Crippler" Justin Dirt
Rated: NR
Studio: Uncertain Regards
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-07 (Korean American Film Festival New York)
Next Saturday needs to be beyond perfect, it needs to be immaculate.

-- Modern Day Warrior" Rob Adonis

"I make my art for people that don’t give a fuck about art," says David Choe, "That don’t go to a museum, don’t appreciate it." He's smashing a canvas. He goes on, in Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe, to cause a bit more mayhem, running and pounding and spray-painting. He also goes on to tell you what he's doing. Or maybe what he thinks he's doing.

Screening this week at the Sixth Annual Korean American Film Festival (KAFFNY) at Anthology Film Archives, the documentary offers an aptly fragmented view of the artist at work and in thought. Comprised of incessantly mobile frames, bobbing fish-eye lenses, and lots of talking, Harry Kim's film was shot over a five-year period, in a variety of locations (Brazzaville, Los Angeles, Japan). It doesn't so much reveal the artist as it ponders him, and also helps to promote his art -- as an evolving concept, as a self-performance, as a series of street actions.

Choe's performance is captured in his art, but that also remains elusive, partly because it is often ephemeral (inscribed on a building walls, covered over or erased by city workers) and because it speaks to or recalls immediate events, personal and public. By the time Choe ends up prison in Japan, he's pondering the effects of his work, longstanding and also fleeting. Writing in his journals, Choe is at once a sort of furious memoirist and notetaker, gather together his ideas for some future that seems especially far away. Reflecting on what he's done and what he might have meant to do, he considers as well where he's come. Inside a cell, "You're completely helpless," he observes. But still, "I just never feel any bit of guilt, any bit of wrong, for writing on a wall."

Writing on a wall is what he does best, jarring his audience, provoking responses. Choe's self-performance is integral to his art and also to the film's framing of that art -- and moreover, its framing of broader questions concerning art's potential purposes and effects. In this, Dirty Hands is much like Ultimate Christian Wrestling, also screening at KAFFNY. The performance here is collective, headed by Rob Adonis, "The Modern Day Warrior." He's managing a professional wrestling show, specifically, a Christian show, including a Christ who is beaten down before he rises and instructs his fellow performers to accept him as savior and get on the path to salvation.

Jae-Ho Chang and Tara Autovino also spent time with their subjects, three wrestlers, inside their homes and on the road. The wrestlers are devoted, both to their craft and to their faith, some supported by wives and kids, others, like Justin Dirt ("The Custodial Crippler"), who lives in Rob's guest room (he offers a "tour," pointing and naming objects as the camera pans from his alarm clock to his TV to his wrestling bag). Rob explains one difficulty he's having in making the show solvent, namely that "people" judge his method. "In their little minds," he says, "I'll just be bold and say, 'in their simple little minds,' it can't work it's not logical that you could mix ministry or sports of any kind. Because, you know, of the violence factor, the bumping and whatnot."

He's in the kitchen as he talks, cleaning out the cup he's used to bleach his beard, being attentive, he says, "to the cosmetics." Rob believes that a good show, entertaining as well as passionate and (faux) violent, can reach an audience. And he doesn't mean to make money, only support his family (in his case, his wife, who helps with the bleaching). The same goes for "God's Property" Billy Jack. If his ex-wife resents his work as a wrestler, his young son Kody adores it. The boy points out his dad's Jesus collection ("He just loves to collect stuff about Jesus, he worships him. I worship him," says the boy as the camera shows porcelain figures and framed pictures. Kody turns to his best friend Tyler to ask, "Do you worship him? Tyler?" No response: Tyler's visiting so they can play wrestlers on the trampoline and lift weights in Kody's room.

Kody's understanding of what his dad does helps you to grasp the wrestlers' sense of mission and isolation and efforts to fit in. He comes to shows, sits on dad's lap, and explains that his parents are divorced. If children in the audience come to see the body-slams and adults come for the religion ("I cried the first night," says one woman, "But I enjoyed it, though"), Rob has helped Kody to see the connection. Kody demonstrates how to put on wrestler makeup. "White is actually my favorite color," he says as he applies it to create a star around his eye. "I'm pretty weird."

Kody's self-consciousness is of a piece with his father's co-wrestlers. Justin comes from a hard background, which he remembers with his younger brother Matthew: their mother was a prescription drug addict, their dad a hardline Christian. While Matthew is sorting out his lack of belief, his brother looks for other forms of structure. As the wrestling can't pay rent, he decides to join the military. It's not his ideal job (which is, he says "either working as a professional wrestler fulltime or an animator"), but it means he can move into his own place. That the recruiter's promises don't nearly come true isn't much of a surprise. But still, Justin has faith.


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