I like documentaries presenting people different from me with care and empathy, and South Korean documentary film “I am More” is one of such cases. While its transgender heroine surely draws our attention right from the beginning due to her cocky flamboyance on the surface, we also come to see her hard-earned will and resilience behind her showy appearance as following her little human story, and you may come to respect and like her more than expected – if you are open to more tolerance and acceptance.
At first, the documentary looks into a certain club located in the middle of the Itaewon-dong neighborhood of Seoul. To be frank with you, I actually passed by this club more than once as looking for any suitable gay bar for me in August 2016, but I never entered this club although it is still there, so I was a bit intrigued as watching the camera gliding into this club and then showing here and there inside it.
We soon see several drag queen performers dancing on the stage one by one, and one of them is a transgender female named “More”. It is apparent that she is pretty popular among those club customers, and we are accordingly served with several exciting moments as she goes through a series of dynamic dance performances on the stage. At one point, she presents herself as a beautiful ballerina, and we are not surprised when we come to learn that she actually studied ballet many years ago.
After that, the documentary observes her daily life outside the club. More recently applied for the audition for a certain important stage performance to be held in New York City, and we subsequently observe how much she prepares once she gets a role. Although she is around 40, her lean body is a lot more agile and flexible than my chubby (and clumsy) body, and I was actually impressed by how easily she can lift her leg above her waist.
When the camera looks into More’s little residence, it seems that a pet cat is her only companion, but it soon turns out that she has been in a relationship with a Russian guy for around 20 years. Although they still cannot get married legally, they look pretty much like a married couple as they bicker with each other a bit over a bad habit of More’s boyfriend, and we later get a little sweet moment as they try to sleep on the bed together. Although the past between them was a little complicated, they have loved and understood each other a lot during those many years, and I must confess that I envy and admire their relationship as a dude who have failed to have any serious romantic relationship in his private life during last several years.
While More and her boyfriend do not have any problem in showing their relationship outside, More is well aware of how hard and difficult things can be for her and many other sexual minority people out there in South Korea. She still remembers how she was cruelly bullied by one senior student during the first days at his art high school just because she looked too feminine, and she actually attempted to commit suicide once a long time ago, though she luckily survived in the end.
After that, More became more determined to be alive as herself, and we are served with a number of bold and colorful moments as she bravely shows off her colorful sexual identity. In case of one certain moment, she boldly marches alone as a part of the annual queer parade in Seoul, and even those hateful bigots gathering around the parade, most of whom are incidentally Christians, cannot rain on her parade.
While the documentary never directly points out, it is clear that More’s longtime endurance partly comes from how her family has accepted her sexual identity without much objection. When she visits her family living in her rural hometown, her mother greets her dearly, and her father has no particular problem with her even though he did not say much. After all, he supported young More’s artistic passion from the very beginning, and he is certainly much better than many South Korean fathers cruelly rejecting their sexual minority kids.
In the meantime, More’s life happens to have several small ups and downs. When she meets a certain famous American queer figure in person, she is quite excited for good reasons, and she surely feels honored when this figure later pays a personal visit to where she practices dance moves for the upcoming New York City performance. When she subsequently comes to New York City, she and this figure come to have a brief private meeting, and, though not being able to see her performance due to the busy schedule, this figure gives her a very special gift which means a lot to her (Hint: It was released by Criterion several years ago).
In case of More’s boyfriend, he is surely delighted about More’s little success in New York City, but, sadly, he cannot be there for her because his labor visa happened to be expired and had to go back to Russia after that. The documentary later gives us a very poignant personal moment between them, and you may find yourself hoping that everything turns out to be all right for this loving couple in the near future.
Overall, “I am More” is a lively and touching documentary to be appreciated, and director Lee Il-ha did a superb job of vividly presenting the vibrant humanity and personality of his interesting human subject. Although I am quite different from More in many aspects, I was often touched as closely observing his private thoughts and feelings from the documentary, and that is more than enough for my wholehearted recommendation.