November 3, 2013

Intangible Asset Number 82: Nothing Rhythm Is Something Else

Obsessions are not contained worlds. They simply travel down instead of out, deep instead of wide. There are just as many discoveries to be made below as afar. How else would I have come across director Emma Franz's Intangible Asset Number 82 if I weren't obsessed with Korean movies, if my access to Korean movies weren't limited, if I hadn't just signed up for Netflix specifically to see if they had anything new? I feel pretty sure I would've missed -- even skipped -- it. This fantastic travelogue about Australian jazz drummer Simon Barker's quest to meet aging, ailing Korean shaman Kim Seok-Chul is a study of obsession itself, a paean to pursuing your innermost desire, which in this instance is Barker's drive to release himself from Western approaches to rhythm, melody and even life with a little help from square music instructor Kim Dong-won who's English is good but whose translations oversimplify.

Whether Barker knows Korean or not is unclear. The entire documentary is shot as if Barker understood what was said and chose not to speak Korean. Oft times, he stares -- his green eyes wide, silent, nodding, smiling, perhaps a bit lost but open, eager and joyful, reverential and grounded all at once. His eventual meeting with Kim Seok-chul is neither climax nor anticlimax. It's simply one stop along a way of many self-discoveries. It's also probably not as life-changing as his encounter with Bae Il-dong, a younger shaman whose cheery disposition and heavy metal screams lead to a cross-cultural conversation that exists beyond words. It's funny to see how their first public concert is greeted: mild disinterested and happy indifference. A later performance, in a major venue, assumes arena rock proportions. Here in front of thousands, the two artists unleash an improvisational style that feels truly transnational. Barker's obsession has borne fruit. I don't know that my own obsessions have struck gold but I'm definitely dazzled by Barker's pay dirt.

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