Film Review: “Nora Noh” – Korean Documentary Tells the Story of Korea’s First Female Ground-Breaking Designer

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Review by: Mut Asheru

Documentary NORA NOH, directed by  Kim Sung-hee attempts to capture and highlight the living Korean fashion legend Ms. Nora Noh herself. But to quote a classic line “how do catch a cloud and pin it down?”.  She was the first person ever to hold a fashion show in Korea and to make designer ready-made clothes. She dressed movie stars and provided their film wardrobe. Now in her 80s, Nora NOH broke ground in Korea as a female designer with several societal strikes against her. Number 1 she is a woman, number 2 she was divorced, number 3 she was (IS) just plain outspoken. Her story is very fascinating with the highlight of the documentary being the designer herself.

When fashion designer Seo Eun-young realizes the rich fashion history living right under her nose she is sickened to find that Nora has not been highlighted in fashion schools and whose contribution to Korean fashion is was virtually unknown in the industry. While Koreans are breaking their necks to internalize Western and European fashion facts there is a powerhouse in their own backyard…and her accomplishments were basically being ignored.  Seo Eun-young decides to contact Nora and set up a fashion show to bring her back out into the spotlight and educate the Korean fashionistas about their own glorious-cultural-fashion possession…Ms. Nora NOH.

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Now, as wonderful as Nora is…the documentary falls a tad bit behind in a couple areas. There is too much of miss Seo trying to exert her knowledge and willpower over Nora. I couldn’t tell if the fashion show in planning was for Eun-young’s glory or Nora’s. At one point Nora tries to tell them a two or thing about designing a particular piece but they freakin ignore her! What?! Listen children…mama’s talkin here!! Eun-young bemoans the fact that Nora and friends are just a bunch of old folks reminiscing about the good old days. Nora states that the younger generation doesn’t want to listen to the elders. What to do? Well from a documentation stand-point they probably should have listened to Nora and crew at full attention.

As for pacing, the documentary was well edited but it tends to breeze past answering questions in favor of talking heads testifying to the quality of Nora’s work and what it was like to know her.  Testimonials are good but I found myself wanting to hear more from Nora herself about her history. They delve into it a little bit…however not deep enough. The nuts and bolts of how she accomplished her greatest achievements are simply missing.

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Nora got a chance to study fashion in America…um how?  Who, what, where, when and how? As the subject of the film these issues should have been addressed. How did she move these mountains. Who helped her…surely there was a pen pusher somewhere. Did her ideas for design come to her at night? What’s her favorite stitch? Who taught it to her? Start up money? Where did it come from?

Unanswered questions aside the person in question and recalled footage is enough to make this film a satisfying experience and successfully articulates Nora Noh’s role as a maverick and ground-breaker. You get the sense that she’s big but this film only covers the tip of the iceberg. Like an iceberg the scope and size of Ms. Noh’s contributions lie hidden just slightly out of sight but through this film you can however sense that there’s more just below the surface. NORA NOH serves as a wonderful introduction to the iconic designer however it’s only just that. An introduction. When Nora is on screen you can’t help but perk up, listen and feel emboldened to accomplish your dreams.

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