Nine Muses of Star Empire (2012)

In August 2013, the annual Korean Film Festival was held in Australia. It’s a great event which travels across several states, screening Korean films in Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne.

The 2013 line up of KOFFIA featured some of Korea ‘s hottest recent films such as:

A Werewolf Boy (눈대소년), The Thieves (도둑들), Masquerade (광해, 왕이 된 남자), Miracle in Cell 7 (7번방의 선물), Boomerang Family (고령화 가족), Wathcya Wearin’? (나의 PS 파트너), My Paparotti (파파로티), The Tower (타워) and many more!

The event also included Q&A sessions with directors, KPOP dance cover groups performing, and a short film competition for Australians to express their connection to Korea through film-making.

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One of the highlights of the festival for me was finally getting a chance to catch a screening of Lee Hark Joon’s “Nine Muses of Star Empire” documentary, which was released in 2012. I’m not familiar with Lee’s previous work, but after seeing this film, I’d like to look into it!

Firstly, there are two copies of this film floating around – There was a shortened version titled “Idol” which aired on British tv channel BBC, but it is only 50 minutes long, so I recommend trying to see the full 85 minute “Nine muses of Star Empire” if you get the chance

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The documentary “Nine Muses of Star Empire” follows an unknown Idol group, 9 Muses, through their pre-debut selection & training, up until-their 2010 television debut. The idol group are part of the Star Empire Entertainment company, which is a lesser known entertainment company within Korea. The film was shot over the course of about a year leading up to the group’s first public performance (which for anyone who unfamiliar with 9 Muses, and to put it lightly, wasn’t perfect) and then continues to show what happens after the result of that famous debut of the song “No Playboy”.

Through-out the film we get a real “fly on the wall” insight into the world of an idol trainee group, as the audience witnesses the repetitive rehearsals, busy schedules, endless photo shoots, and everything that happens in between -including the eye-opening management meetings. As the audience we get to see both sides of the lifestyle first-hand – the good, as well as the bad.

What I like about the documentary is that nothing is hidden from the viewer, a lot of which could come as a bit of a shock to some fans who have never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes to bring the perfect performances and flawless images that we’re used to seeing from within the world of KPOP. The song “No Playboy” feels like it is repeated constantly throughout the entire film, which adds to the feeling of repetition and monotony, which is the daily life for these trainees.

The camera work isn’t anything special, and I think the shaky cams, and sometimes poor quality shots, complement the feel of the film. At times the scenes are uncomfortably intense, awkward, and even shocking (but maybe not surprising to most) to see the way in which managers speak to the girls and make demands to the stylists that skirts need to be shorter, as well as how the blame is shifted onto the group’s leader for the absence of other members and in-fighting amongst the group.

“Nine Muses of Star Empire” is emotional at times, as member Ryu Sera becomes kind of a main character in the film, and you definitely start to feel for her and the situations she is put in, as well as the physical and psychological toll that is placed on her and the 9 Muses group members. The film presents the highs and lows, which the girls go through to try to achieve their dream – the joy as well as the many tears that come with being a star and the lengths which they must go to.
Without giving too much away, I think the film ended perfectly (although emotionally) with the song Sera sings solo in the rehearsal room. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of the song – but in the theatrical release it is different to the BBC version.

I was really impressed by this documentary, and I think that it worked so well because the director used an unknown idol group rather than an already established group, to uncover the behind the scenes aspects of the KPOP world, as well as Star Empire Entertainment’s cooperation in allowing the film makers to use all the footage, and for taking a risk to completely expose themselves, their company and their new group, to give the fans around the world a full insight into the multi-million dollar industry and what goes on during the making of these idol groups.

This film is for all, KPOP fans, and non-KPOP fans alike (as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles if you can’t speak Korean).  I haven’t heard anything about a DVD release, but I hope it happens eventually and would definitely recommend it to all!

Check out the trailer here:

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