SM Town fans, dust off those glowsticks and break out the pearlescent balloons: the SM-produced biopic “I AM: SM Town World Tour Live in Madison Square Garden” has been slated for a May 2012 release!


For those of you who haven’t yet heard, “I AM” is a documentary/biographical film that will spotlight and star SM Town artists Kangta, BoA, TVXQ, SNSD, Super Junior, SHINee, and f(x).  The movie, which will be released in theaters (though international releases are unconfirmed as of yet, that the above preview is subbed in English indicates to me that there will likely be some American releases), will document the Korean Wave as it is being produced and led by SM Town artists while also allowing fans a perhaps unprecedented peek into their favorite stars’ lives off-camera.  Moreover, SM has allowed fans to directly participate in the production by hosting a dance cover project that allowed K-poppers from a number of different countries to send in dance cover videos of their favorite SM songs, some of which will be featured in the film.  Some people really went all out; I mean, where did those girls get the “Mr. Taxi” outfits?  Mad props.  That is dedication.

As someone who has generally been supportive of SM Town as a label (read: paid an exorbitant amount of money to sit in the nosebleed section at SM Town Live in NYC), this movie doesn’t have to try to hard to seem appealing to me.  I can easily envision myself tossing 11 bucks at the cinema to be inundated with gorgeous visuals and behind-the-scenes goodies for two hours — and given that providence allows me to be in South Korea this summer, I’m obviously going to see it the minute it comes out.  Here’s hoping they don’t skimp on Tiffany!  And am I the only one who is disappointed that Jang Ri In is apparently not going to make an appearance?

But as much as I am anticipating the film, the most cynical part of me is doing a fantastic eye-roll — because realistically, a movie about SM Town made by SM Town is probably (and necessarily) going to be pretty one-sided.  This is to be expected; naturally, SM has a stake in making itself look as good as it possibly can, and this movie was ostensibly produced to promote SM as both an arbiter of Hallyu and a dream place to work.  Not that I am arguing that either of these claims is false (and indeed, at least the former is pretty much true), but the things that I personally want to know about SM Town and its artists —  as told from the horse ‘s mouth — will likely be withheld from the film.

In other words, what I envision as the ideal K-pop documentary is probably markedly far-off from what SM Town has produced here.  What I’d like to see are honest confessions, raw emotions, and a depiction of the many ugly realities that idols are confronted with every day; what I’ll likely get is 120 minutes’ worth of fan service and an overwhelmingly cheerful depiction of how idols live their lives.  Sure, we’ll probably see one or possibly more idols comment on the physical and mental hardships of being an idol, but I’m almost certain that such admissions will be capped off with some vaguely scripted variant of, “But I love my life and my fans make everything worth it and I wouldn’t change anything for the world ever!”  Which is not to say that some (or even most idols) do not genuinely feel this way, but I am pretty sure that they do not feel this way all the time.  It’d be nice to hear Taeyeon admit that on some days, she’d probably just like to punch one of her fellow members in the face and lock herself in her room for 40 hours while eating nothing but Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.  Idols are not animatrons, but their ever-present megawatt smiles and ceaseless optimism can sometimes make it seem as though they are.  I’m afraid that “I AM” may do little else except reinforce this perception.

It’s possible that I’m just being a Negative Nancy about this whole thing, but think about how scripted idols are in nearly all public appearances.  As discussed in one of our Roundtables, idols so rarely get to express themselves without constraint; to be able to speak candidly would perhaps garner more attention and capture fan interest, but not without the possibility that such candid speech could in some way jeopardize either the idol in question or the agency that he or she represents.  That this is unfair to the idols is probably true; however, South Korea’s fan culture is often punishing and merciless, with small indiscretions being enough to cost an idol a great deal.  Therefore, the impetus to keep quiet unless you’re planning to say something that both your audience and agency would approve of is quite strong.  With this in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if “I AM” were completely scripted.  At the very least, I anticipate that everything that has gone into the final product will be scrutinized very, very carefully, with any potentially damning material being removed before it could hit the ears of the fan base.

This is not to say that I don’t think that “I AM” will be interesting (because I do) or that fans won’t learn things about their idols that they previously didn’t know (because I think they will).  And I’m sure that the movie will be enjoyable, entertaining, and even poignant at times.  In a way, I just wish that it was anyone but SM themselves who would be producing this movie, because a third party approach would, in my opinion, be so much more eye-opening and intriguing. It would, however, also be impossible to make without guaranteeing that every single idol who participated in it would lose their contract, their fan base, and ultimately their celebrity.  Perhaps one day, when contractual obligations are long gone and the hey-day of Super Junior, TVXQ, and SNSD is just a memory, someone will write a tell-all book?  I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely read it.

What do you say, Seoulmates?  What are your expectations for “I AM”?  Will you go see it?  And does anyone want to join me so I don’t have to go alone??

(Soompi, SM Entertainment)