Fanatic (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Of being a fan

I could not help but become quite amused from time to time while watching South Korean documentary film “Fanatic”. Yes, as shown from the documentary, director Oh Se-yeon was really a big fan of a certain local male idol singer, and the documentary is often darkly and painfully humorous as she attempts to examine and reflect on her shock, anger, and disillusionment caused by that local male idol singer’s serious criminal deeds.

At first, Oh, who was incidentally born in 1999, shows us what a huge fan of that local male idol singer she had been for several years. For example, she collected various pricey items associated with that local male idol singer, and she even met him more than once as shown from one old archival TV show clip. She unabashedly expressed her adoration to him in front of the camera, and she surely felt pretty good as enjoying what was regarded as the most fantastic moment in her life at that time.

However, in 2019, there came a notorious incident which shocked many fans of that local male idol singer. It turned out that he actually committed several serious sex crimes, and Oh and many other fans were all the more confused and disillusioned as his case was eventually brought to the court. While it was undeniable that he was guilty as charged, that certainly clashed with his supposedly wholesome public image, and some of his fans even came to insist that he was not guilty at all.

While trying to cope with her anger and confusion coupled with lots of disillusionment, Oh approaches to several other former fans of his including her assistant director, who incidentally has one of the most humorous moments in the documentary. She and Oh gather a bunch of collectible items associated with him, and it is rather amusing to observe them discussing on how to handle all these completely valueless items. They cannot help but feel bitter as remembering how much they paid for these items as your average big fans, and their talk eventually culminates to a little funeral for these items, which is a gesture of farewell to their little adoration toward him.

In case of several other former fans interviewed in the documentary, they provide each own perspective and insight, and the documentary deftly balances itself between seriousness and some self-deprecating humor. They all were once proud to be ‘seongdeok’ (successful fan), but all of them are now bitter and disillusioned in each own way, and they surely have something to tell as casually talking with Oh. Although they all initially did not believe what he did, they eventually came to accept that inarguable truth about him as growing up a bit more, and that certainly makes them look a lot more reasonable and matured than those toxic online fans of a certain recently disgraced Hollywood star.

Nevertheless, they also cannot help but wonder about how the hell they did not see or sense what was hidden behind his nice public image, and they feel ashamed of their rather blind adoration and passion toward him. As a matter of fact, one of them points out that they and many other fans of his did lots of considerable harm in public as they tried to disbelieve what he allegedly did at first, and she still feels guilty about that.

As listening to Oh and several other former fans in the documentary, my mind was often taken back to several similar experiences of mine. As your average self-serious moviegoer, I usually put some distance between myself and those wonderful filmmakers and performers out there, but I admire many of them with considerable affection nonetheless, and that was why I was quite shocked when some of them turned out to be not good persons at all. In case of a certain Oscar-winning American actor, I had actually rooted for him a lot as observing how he steadily advanced with more impressive results, but I and others belatedly came to learn of the allegations on his sexual misconduct right before the 2017 Academy Awards, and that completely eradicated my accumulating admiration toward him. As a matter of fact, I frowned a lot when he eventually won an Oscar as predicted, even though he gave one of the best performances of 2016.

Oh also comes to reflect more on herself as listening to her fellow former fans, and that leads to some embarrassing discoveries. At one point, she comes across a personal diary of hers which shows that she did not believe the first allegation against that local male singer in 2016, and she is certainly embarrassed to discover that she wrote some very nasty things about a female newspaper reporter who wrote about that first allegation. She later approaches to that female newspaper reporter for personal apology, and their following discussion culminates to one of the most hilarious moments in the documentary. I will not go into details here for not spoiling any of your entertainment, and I assure you that you will have a big laugh as observing how Oh comes to experience the overlap between her former fan activity and a certain kind of deplorable political activity.

In conclusion, “Fanatic” is probably the funniest South Korean documentary film of this year, and I appreciate how Oh handles her personal subject with considerable care and thoughtfulness. In addition to succeeding in exorcizing all the confusion and disillusionment of hers on the screen, she also demonstrates here that she is a good filmmaker to watch, and it will be interesting to see what she will do next in the future, though she has moved onto another kind of fan activity now. After all, we all need something to be personally passionate about, don’t we?

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