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.

The guy indicated he had been hired to make digital backups of every title in the collection. I asked if he was in charge, and he made a hand motion to indicate "sort of." He mentioned Antonina Grillo, the project "coordinator" who'd been quoted on the press release dismissing Toscani's allegations.

I asked if she was around, and he shook his head. Then he explained that they were having a blackout, so he couldn't let me in to see the center's movie theater. That seemed to be the reason he'd walked out of the building to begin with—he couldn't use the digitization station without power.

We'd reached the limit of what we could communicate. And so we got in our car and left, and the next day flew out of Palermo to come home.

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.

Yongman Kim, of course, was not the only video-store owner to discover over the past decade that the rental business had become untenable, but his circumstances were unique. A turning point came the summer of 2005, when Mondo Kim's was busted in a sting for selling bootleg mix CDs and DVDs. Employees were arrested, and computers and cash registers were confiscated.

At the time, Kim was distracted by the production of One-Third, his self-financed debut as a director of feature films. A largely silent drama about a teenage hooker and a Buddhist monk, mostly shot in and around the Mondo Kim's building, One-Third was the first film in what Kim planned as a trilogy. When he couldn't find a distributor, Kim funded a pay-to-play week at Manhattan's Cinema Village and then a DVD release.

The reviews were decidedly mixed. Writing in Slant Magazine, Voice film critic Nick Schager concluded that the movie "comes across as the type of overreaching indie apt to be mocked by the rude, condescending clerks at his landmark stores."

Given his financial position, it's hard to blame Kim for giving away a collection he stood little to gain from by renting. The collection's struggle to find a local home raises the question of its worth outside of its original context.

"I don't know about monetary value, [but] I think the Kim's collection has a huge cultural value," says Jake Yuzna, who recently curated "VHS," a show at Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design dedicated to the disappearing analog medium, which featured a working video-rental store as part of the exhibit.

But the collector's value of used VHS tapes and DVDs is next to nil. Even Yuzna admits that the museum had no intention of keeping its rental stock at the end of the exhibit.

In Salemi, David Moss had argued that a library of physical film objects is actually more valuable there than it would be elsewhere: "What's a video worth in New York? It's dead. Whereas here, it's at least a piece of media."

There are no video stores in Salemi, no movie theaters; the city library doesn't have DVDs to lend.

Yet Moss and friends had told me that when Kim's movies were shown in the castle on a handful of summer nights, the events had attracted crowds who flowed in and out, treating the projections like art installations. Some of the movies weren't in Italian, and in a country where almost all foreign releases, especially Hollywood films, arrive dubbed, it wasn't so much entertainment as it was an oddity.

Does anyone in Salemi still talk about the video collection? Pietro, a fortysomething with square, rimless glasses and a gold chain swinging from his neck, shook his head. "Really, everyone's forgotten."

In New York, the Kim's faithful have not forgotten. "People talk about Kim's all the time," filmmaker Fernandes says. "It's like an urban legend."

As for Perry, the more he talks about the formative role Kim's played in his own life, the more people randomly approach him and ask what happened to the collection. "I'm not dropping names, but I was talking to Parker Posey last night. She was like, 'Do you know what happened to Kim's?' Because I knew her from coming all the time. People are always asking," he says.

When I was in Salemi in June, the collection's future still seemed unresolved. The state had just sent a temporary administration to run Salemi. According to one resident, one of the commissioners' first decisions was to cancel the Mafia museum ad at the airport, which cost just 45,000 euro annually.

With austerity in the air and Sgarbi's projects tainted by association, it seemed like a long shot that the commissioners would consider a videotheque to be of high priority. As Moss put it, "No use having Kim's Video if the streets aren't working."

Shortly after returning to the States, I e-mailed Kim and told him about my trip. He didn't respond. I went to New York to try to find him at his store to no avail.

Last week, I sent one final e-mail. This time, Kim responded almost immediately—by forwarding an e-mail he had received that day from Franca Pauli, explaining that Salemi was having another opening ceremony at the Centro on September 18. Pauli and Kim, neither of whom have set foot in Salemi for more than two years, were invited.

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12 comments
max555
max555

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.

rawcuzima
rawcuzima

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!"

MIPC
MIPC

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.

kelvinpeeterson
kelvinpeeterson

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walkerp
walkerp

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.

irvoneil
irvoneil

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 

TheRTTC
TheRTTC

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 retro.trash.theatreco@gmail.com  Also, for those of you intersted, I have back issues of Make-Up Artist and Fangoria Magazine availble for sell! Thanks!

marieepstein
marieepstein

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. http://video.corriere.it/cultura/index.shtml

 

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

Cassidy
Cassidy

Wait a minute...so this legendary thing I've been hearing about off and on through the years, this "Kim's Video," this "Mondo Kim"...is 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!!

Binkconn
Binkconn

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.

LisaKS
LisaKS

 @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.

katherine.gleason
katherine.gleason

 @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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