Movie Review: "Dirty Hands: The Arts and Crimes of David Choe"

Okay I admit, I didn't know who David Choe was until the story about his giant fortune from Facebook stock went viral, and even then, I wasn't really interested....until James posted the Dirty Hands trailer. At this point of my life I was just really frustrated by the fact that I was so tired from work that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't think of ANY ideas for my writing and art projects. Explained on this post here. Dirty Hands is basically a compilation of footage by David Choe's best friend, Harry Kim, for around a decade or so, filming his road of becoming some punkass kid with the obsessive compulsive urge to tag everything and anything to a punkass adult with the obsessive compulsive urge to tag everything and anything... that makes a shit ton of money.

If you're watching this movie with the expectation of seeing the clash of an Asian-American following his dreams versus traditional Tiger Parenting, you're in for a disappointment. You learn that Dave inherits his love of art from his father, who also wanted to grow up to be an artist, but because of his circumstances, he leaves for the Korean War and when he comes home, his parents burn all of his drawings to deter him from pursuing his dream- and that's about it when it comes to Asian issues. Dave's father notices his son's talent and passion and is supportive of Dave's career choice. The first half is pretty much a montage of Dave running around causing trouble and notable people acknowledging his talent from the get go as well as his early struggles and success as an artist as well as his adventures during the L.A. riots.

The turning point is of course, is when he goes to jail in Japan. Again, it is reconfirmed that David is a true artist at heart and making him stop drawing is like making him commit suicide. This is where he rediscovers God and he comes out a new man... sort of. He contemplates his life and tries to do good in the world and you get the impression that he's genuinely trying to change, but at the end of the day, he admits that while having achieved his dreams and most likely because of that, he never really grows up.

So beautiful- and catchy name too


Impressions: I think the movie is somewhat over hyped. I think they overstretched some parts in the beginning where they were talking about his childhood but that's probably because the trailer makes it sound like they were going to talk about his time in jail for the bulk of the documentary. They never really talk about his time in art school and whether or not it had much of a big impact in his life. I'm assuming since it wasn't featured it's not that much of a big deal- or at least in the eyes of the creators, but it's something that I would have liked to know about since I'm only taking art as a hobby and would like to know what a legit art school is like. Also, the way the movie progresses really leaves to question exactly how he rises to success. They talk about how he lands all these jobs, but you never quite understand how they all connect with each other in his rise to fame. To be honest, I actually watched/heard an interview that he had with Howard Stern (which I will post later) where he talks more about his success and his time in prison in more detail. I suggest watching the interview after the documentary since it helps supplements some of the holes that the film leaves hanging.

Having watched the Howard Stern interview first, I kind of got the impression that David is this dysfunctional, genuine kind of artist. Towards the end of the documentary however, you learn that Dave is diagnosed with clinical depression, OCD, antisocial behavior, bipolar disorder, kleptomania and sex addiction and when you add that up along with his refined skill, you get a fucked up, crazy-talented artist and you realize that he's more of a genuinely dysfunctional character (that can draw like a motherfucker).

But you know what? Despite his talent, his financial success, and the closeness of his inner circle (you can tell by how fond they are with him in the audio commentary), he's still far from a perfect person (besides his mental diagnosis). There are cut scenes where his loved ones question his after-jail epiphany and they admit that he's still "pretty much the same guy". The first scene takes place with David and his friends in the Congo talking about looking for "dinosaurs" somewhere in the jungle and you're like "Dude, wtf are you doing in Africa looking for dinosaurs?" but in the end, he admits that the dinosaurs are really a metaphor for himself. He gets disillusioned with everyday life just like the rest of us and has to escape every three months from the rat-race we call life. He questions how many times he has to leave to stay humbled- which is a sign to me that he at least recognizes his faults.

I think the part that really hits home for me was how he justifies selling his work for tens of thousands of dollars. (That and the time he felt betrayed by his friend and contemplates murdering said friend. At this point of the movie, I'm on the couch eating cereal and Dave starts talking about how he's going to murder the guy and I feel my own rage building up and I'm waving my spoon around yelling “YOU FUCK HIM UP, DAVE!” at the television. Yeah.. I'm kind of bitter, can you tell?) Aaanyways, he justifies this by saying that each piece is a little piece of his soul. He fears that with every little line he draws, it uses up a bit of what's left inside of him- that there is a finite amount of art in him and he's going to keep going until that tank runs out. You know what, guys? That applies to all of us- as well and it makes me question how much our lives are really worth: Minimum wage? Or six figures and up? He's lucky enough to be the latter- and he is in high demand.

All in all, David Choe is one hell of a character. You may or may not like his art or lifestyle, but his raw talent, emotion and persona makes him undeniable. He's achieved a freedom that most of us can only dream of and despite his personal flaws (he's definitely not someone you want your kids to have as a role model), he doesn't seem like that bad of a guy- he's just trying to get his act together like rest of us and I would definitely recommend watching it. Especially if you were stuck in a rut like I was.

Dave, I really hope you find that dinosaur, man.

Yeah... not even close lol....


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