As reported in a recent New York Times article, graffiti in American cities is on the rise. It doesn’t take much imagination to wonder why. The glorification that the mainstream media has bestowed on graffiti (otherwise known as gorilla or street art) is unprecedented. The art form has even reached the upper echelons of Hollywood with the 2010 Academy Award nominated Exit Through the Gift Shop. Taking it back to 2008, however, we find Harry Kim making his directorial debut with, Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe.
The film delivers an intense portrait of David Choe, a Korean-American thief, thug, depressive, sociopath, and sex-addicted artist who rejects not only the rule of law, but the unwritten law of street art so that he may express himself without constraint. Following Choe over the course of seven years, the documentary is a manic ride into the mind of a tortured and immensely entertaining individual. From dinosaur hunts in the Congo, to a 3-month stretch in a Japanese prison, Choe is a modern day Ernest Hemingway; equally as talented as he is complex.
However, beyond the prison stints, the anti-social behavior, and the porn addiction is art. Inspired by the likes of Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, Choe’s work includes a fusion of graphic illustration with traditional technique. The result is impressive. From designing video-game art to decorating the walls of Facebook, Choe’s art has even managed to find its way into the halls of the Whitehouse.
Although the film can feel at bit long, the end product is worth the ride. Simultaneously feeling engaged, bored, exhilarated, and illuminated, the product delivers best when we watch Choe at his craft. And like his art, the film begins franticly yet manages to pull it all together to tell a compelling story.
Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe can be streamed online for free here.