The Strange Fate of Kim's Video

The best video collection in New York was shipped to a Sicilian town with a promise that it would be kept accessible to cinephiles. Here's what really happened to it.

Pauli found Salemi impossible—but she still felt guilty walking away. Then she talked to Kim. "He said: 'Franca, just stop. I'm a businessman, I'm not just a cinema-lover. And I know that some projects just don't work. So this project didn't work. Move on.'

"At that point," Pauli admits, "I was really thinking it would have been better to leave it in a cellar somewhere in New York."

David Moss had told us that Saturday was a bank holiday and that everything should be open on Monday. Cut to Monday morning, and Salemi hardly seemed more open for business. There was barely anyone on the streets. The tourism office was flat-out closed. The city museum was locked. I peered through a hole in the wooden gate at its entrance—it looked like a construction zone in the courtyard.

Photograph by Rian Johnson
Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and Yongman Kim had expansive (if strange) plans.
Courtesy Castelvetrano News Italy
Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and Yongman Kim had expansive (if strange) plans.

At the police station, a man in a crisp blue constable uniform bedecked with medals, like a character in a Wes Anderson movie, introduced himself as Diego Muraca, the chief of police.

I told Muraca I was looking for the Kim's Video collection and that I'd heard it was in the city museum, but that the museum was now closed. He told me to come back the next day. Because I was on a flight leaving Palermo the next morning, I asked if he knew anyone I could talk to about the collection, or was there any way to be let in. Speaking in Italian, he made a phone call and then said he was trying to get someone to take us into the museum. In the meantime, he would take us on a tour.

His tour encompassed the few buildings between the police station and the museum: the library, a church. All the while, he kept a running commentary on Salemi's historical importance. His English was imperfect, but he used it artfully; I repeatedly asked questions about the video collection, Sgarbi, and the new administration, and he redirected each one. "Sicily is the origin of culture," he kept saying. When I asked if he remembered the videos' arrival, he said that he did and then began a tangent: "The Americans are a young people."

Eventually, he took us to an office above the library, where he had what seemed like a heated conversation with two men. It ended with Muraca telling us there would be no way to get into the museum today and to come back tomorrow.

I told him I couldn't. Once I was back in the States, was there anyone I could e-mail who could tell me about the status of the video collection? He said something to one of the men, who then scrawled in my notebook a generic e-mail address for the city library.

Apparently satisfied that he had done his duty, Chief Muraca walked us out. I made one last attempt to get some kind of information: I explained that I'd been told that there was a community center named after the Mr. Kim who had donated the videos in town. Could he point me in the right direction?

He shook his head no. "At the moment, we don't have."

We got in the car to leave. The sky was gray, and it was starting to drizzle. Confused, defeated, deflated, we started pulling out of the parking lot opposite the castle. Then I spotted Moss.

I told him that I'd given up—the museum was closed, and the chief of police had just said Centro Kim didn't exist. "Huh, that's weird," Moss said. "Why would he do that? It certainly does exist."

He gave us the directions again and told us not to worry. "It's the only thing for miles around that looks anything like a community center."

We drove down the hill, and a few minutes later, there it was: a big, new-looking building made of beige cinder blocks, anchoring a giant parking lot, empty except for a single car. A sign on the side of the building read: "Kim's Video. Upground, 2 FL." Then, another sign: "Salemi ICIC: International City of Independent Cinema. Grazie, Mr. Kim."

Every door was locked. I rang a doorbell, but no one answered.

Minutes later, a door opened, and a twentysomething Italian dude walked out. He seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him. We quickly established that he spoke slightly more English than I speak Italian.

He let me into the space he had just walked out of. There was a long corridor, to the left of which sat a small room with racks of video decks like you'd see in an old-school VHS dubbing house and a couple of PCs. At the end of the corridor was a huge, open space full of boxes, and shelves crammed with DVDs.

This was it—this was Mr. Kim's rental collection. Was it all of it? I don't know what 55,000 videos looks like, but this was a lot of videos. I walked through the room almost in a daze and took it all in: Peyton Place on VHS, DVD spines printed in Korean, the first season of ALF, porn. I didn't know how long the tapes and discs had been here, but they didn't seem to be rotting in mice shit. The boxes suggested wear and tear, and there's always a chance that VHS tapes stacked atop one another could demagnetize. But on the whole, the level of care exceeded anything I had been led to believe existed.

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Most of the comments here are more interesting than the article, this person found out about kims in 2003 that's just not enough history, I'm not against recent New Yorkers at all but if you are writing an article and everyone reading it knows more about the place than you do, it just doesn't work out.


I remember when Mr. Kim owned a dry cleaners on Avenue A with his wife. He started his VHS rental video business there. I remember thinking "Movies and dry cleaning? Come on!"


Cassidy, "armpit of Europe" : yes Kims Video VHS collection is now in the new Kim's centre in Salemi Sicily Italy, some interns are digitizing it all !!! I've seen them.


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I was a regular at Kim's back before Mondo when it was on the other side of St. Mark's and to the east a bit (later turned into a clothing store).  It was quite a scene and I made some good friends through that place, including one of the employees.  They had an awesome collection of movies.  It was back when HK movies were all the rage and though there were still two theatres still going in Chinatown, Kim's was the place to get everything that you had missed.  It wasn't just the collection, but also that all the people that worked there were super into the movies and would tell you what next thing you should check out.  


They also had tons of great stories about the place.  My favourite and most outrageous (and possibly totally apocryphal) was the Halloween story.  Mr. Kim had a bodyguard and driver that would ferry him from store to store where he would check on the goings-on and take deposits.  One Halloween, the story goes, he forced the driver to wear a clown costume.  The driver happened to have some kind of stomach flu on that same day and he kept having to go to the bathroom.  Mr. Kim got fed up with waiting and wouldn't allow him to go so that he ended up shitting the pants of his clown suit.  He was sitting in the back of the store with his shit-stained clown suit pants while Mr. Kim berated him for being a "disgrace to the Korean race".


Good times.  It's the kind of funky, punk-rock, crazy small-businessman place that can no longer exist in New York.  It's kind of surprising how long it did last actually.


Loved Kim's Video and went there often and had to take a train ride just to get there, it wasn't in my neighborhood. Just going there to get obscure films made me feel like I was tapping a kind of fountain of eternal youth, recapturing over and over my gusto for movies. I couldn't understand why in a city like NY, with all the big money here, all the cinema luminaries and cultural hotshots, that NOBODY could take on that collection and make it perpetually available HERE, not on the other side of the world. Well, this article explains why. A sad tale. @irvoneil 


Hey cinephiles. I've recieved sad news from my girlfriend in Trinidad and need to go there asap. This seems a good place to announce this. I have my collection of 60's - 80's exploitation dvds which I am willing to part with to make this trip. Tell me what you want and I'll tell you if I have it, as the list to too long. Some are opened but most are not. I'm in Brooklyn. You don't have to buy the full collection, but I prefer you spend a minimum of $50+ at a FAIR OFFER! I'm collecting for a plane ticket so I need an amount that is going to take a big bite out of that cost. (average prices right now are in the $600 range) Dvd's are 'special ed', unrated, etc. email your request to  Also, for those of you intersted, I have back issues of Make-Up Artist and Fangoria Magazine availble for sell! Thanks!


Sgarbi and Toscani yell at each other on Italian Radio Zanzara (Mosquito) -- here Toscani calls Sgarbi impotent and Sgarbi says Toscani is a drug addict.


What was the video rental around Houston and 6th?  They had foreign, vintage, indy and they were very nice.


Wait a this legendary thing I've been hearing about off and on through the years, this "Kim's Video," this "Mondo Kim" just some Korean guy's extensive and eclectic tape and disc collection????


And it's now in some closed-off if not entirely abandoned facility in the middle of nowhere in Sicily, the armpit of Europe????


Sounds like the premise of a student film project!!


I heard of its reputation when I was at the NYFA in late '01, but thought the $150 deposit to join was outrageous (still do). RIP Kim's but not really missed.


 @walkerp OUTRAGEOUSLY untrue and frankly defamatory.

Mr. Kim drove a Jeep himself for 10 years during the peak of the Kim's stores success. His "bodyguards" would work at a single store and monitor the place for shoplifters.


Want to hear a funny story? He kept on most of his employees on staff long after he knew he had to get rid of his rental section all the while hemorrhaging $$ just to keep them paid.


 @marieepstein It was Evergreen Video. They moved to Carmine Street and then they closed. They had great stuff. I always intended to rent the 8 part serial of The Master and Margarita, but I never did. Boo.


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