I first saw Dirty Hands about a year ago, when I wrote it up for the 2009 SFIAAFF catalog. It has since gotten a small, platform release, beginning this weekend.
Choe first hit my radar via a friend of mine who also grew up around Choe and his work in the South Bay. I then followed his exploits, now and then, via Giant Robot Magazine and the internet; it's safe to say that Choe has a substantial cult following that's only grown through the years. Dirty Hands does, in my opinion, a strong job of tracing that growth and evolution of that career, including its attendant difficulties and challenges. All this is made possible by filmmaker Harry Kim who purportedly assembled the footage for this documentary from eight years of following Kim around, documenting both his professional and personal life.
That perspective is both the doc's strength and weakness. In reference to the latter, the film lacks what a critical distance; it can feel too hagiographic in some moments, downright intrusive in others. Yet, it's that intimacy which also makes the film fascinating. There is, for example, way too much time devoted to Choe's personal life. It's never explained why the viewer should really care about Choe's relationship problems and these parts of the doc drag early and often. At the same time, these scenes also puncture the veil of "the artist" and allow us to see Choe in moments which can be uncomfortable, even offensive, yet rarely fail to fascinate when taken as a whole. This is an imperfect documentary of an imperfect man and in that sense, they seem perfectly fit for one another.