In the vibrant days of youth, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho, came across a group of extraordinary souls, brought together by a sole connection- the love for cinema. Before achieving global acclaim, Bong Joon-Ho was an ordinary college student with dreams of making films. With a group of graduate students and other movie buffs, Bong created a cinephile club, naming it ‘Yellow Door.’ Lee Hyuk-Rae, who was also an alum of the club, brought forth a heart-melting and inspiring documentary Yellow Door: 90s Lo-fi Film Club on Netflix. Reuniting with the former members of the club, Lee and Bong reminisced about those good old days of the 90s, when college life was as pleasing as the color palette of a Wes Anderson film.
In the year of 1992, the cinephile club ‘Yellow Door’ was founded on the second floor of a building in Seogyo-dong. During this time, Bong Joon-Ho was a graduate student of sociology, while the other members of the club came from various other departments. In that bygone era, when films were not as accessible as they are now, Bong and his fellow cinephiles used to rely on bootleg VHS tapes. They used to make copies of those tapes, which were labeled by Bong himself. Bong was not only an admirer of cinema, but he devotedly studied those films. He used to analyze them, any particular scene of those movies, and even draw those sequences as a storyboard. Not only Bong, but everyone in the club, used to analyze those films, by studying and researching about them. There were some textbooks created by the members of the club that contained those movie analyses along with the storyboards created by Bong Joon-Ho. He showed one of those drawings of a scene from Godfather. However, later, while Bong shared the same stage as Coppola, he told him how he had analyzed Godfather during the time when he was young and running a film club. Bong’s love for cinema was not only limited to watching films, he started making films from that exact moment. As soon as he was able to buy a camcorder, Bong shot his first animation film, Looking for Paradise. This film featured nothing but a stuffed gorilla toy, and a caterpillar made of pieces of clothing. Looking for Paradise was nothing but an abridged animated experimental film by Bong, but each of the members of the club found a different interpretation of the film. Some of them could relate to the gorilla, and his journey to find paradise, while others struggled to remember the exact details of the film.
Not everyone from the Cinephile Club has pursued a filmmaking career. Some of them are now teachers, businessmen, and photographers, while others like Kim Hyung-oak, Choi-jong, and Lee Hyuk-rae made their careers out of cinema. But still, the maker of the documentary, Lee, managed to bring almost all of them together to reminisce about their days of togetherness. Some of them could recall their discussions regarding semiotics, and how they used to mispronounce ‘signifiant’ and ‘signifie.’ During their discussion, one of them brought up that they used to order a lot of food during their discussions and ask the delivery guys to bring the food to the second floor, near a yellow door. That’s how their little cinephile club got the name ‘Yellow Door.’ Dae-yup, one of the members of the club, was hugely responsible for the aesthetics of ‘Yellow Door.’ He suggested that the entire office should be painted yellow, and everyone agreed.
More and more cinephiles joined their club, and it was understandable that many more such clubs were created in the vicinity, encouraging students to flock around, driven by their love for films. Bong’s playful theory behind it was that the government must have put something in the water supply, causing everyone to become a cinephile. However, later, not everyone’s path aligned with Bong Joon-ho’s, some of them saw it as a regret, and some others respected their own choices. One of those members, Hoon-a, could recall the moment when she met with Bong after a long time and wondered how he had chosen filmmaking as his career. For her, watching films was only her hobby, which she never felt like following as a profession.
Yellow Door: 90s Lo-fi Film Club doesn’t have any particular linear storytelling style, rather it is decorated by all the bits of those nostalgic moments and the discussions between those friends who met each other after a long time. Some of the old footage of young Bong and his friends was shown in the film, evoking great nostalgia. This documentary is in every way a beautiful retelling of events. Although a big part of the film focused on Bong Joon-Ho and how his path became distinct from others, Lee made sure that everyone from the club could get the same attention in the film. While the film always talks about the love for cinema, it never criticizes its former members for choosing different careers other than films.
The documentary stands as a testament to the evolution of cinema, showcasing how people at that time didn’t have the access or the opportunity to watch movies as the cinephiles or film students of this era do. Even watching and analyzing films was a difficult job, which used to take patience and devotion. The modern and the upcoming generation could never get the taste of the time when people used to rent CDs or make copies of VHS tapes to watch and study films. In the era of Netflix and Amazon, that once-cherished passion for collecting CDs seems to have been lost somewhere. During the time when the film club was formed, there was no abundance of cinema halls or film festivals in Korea, until in the mid-90s when the first international film festival in South Korea took place. One of the alums of the club recalled how they used to imagine an entire movie from just the still images of the film, which was available to them. Furthermore, the popularity of mainstream movies escalated, leading many cinephiles from the club to change their minds and turn their back on the path of filmmaking, but Bong Joon-Ho’s dedication and love for his craft made him distinct. He never gave up on his dreams, rather with his own visions and styles, he successfully created masterpieces one after another like Parasite, Memories of Murder, and many more, earning name and fame in the movie industry on a global scale.
The theme of the film doesn’t dwell on the concept of success or failure, rather it portrays the profound love for cinema which is able to bring a lot of people together. Cinema, which serves as a strong bond among these cinephiles of the 90s, still manages to hold them together even though they chose different paths in life. This documentary is a tribute to cinema and those who have a strong connection with this form of art. I recommend this heart-melting documentary to all the cinephiles around the world, the aspiring filmmakers, and, most importantly, the dreamers.