Review: 'Baboya'

Just in time for Easter comes the devotional South Korean documentary "Baboya," about the late Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-Hwan, who died in 2009 at 86.

A worshipfully solemn (if awkwardly translated) love letter to one of Korea's most revered religious figures, director Kang Sung-ok's narrated biography has on hand a truly fascinating subject: a Korean loyalist ordered to study in occupying Japan during World War II; a humble country priest who rose to be Korea's first ordained cardinal; and a human rights advocate who fought for society's downtrodden at every turn (washing a migrant worker's feet to stem rising anti-labor protests, attending a prostitute's funeral).

Perhaps most notably, his Seoul church gave controversial refuge to anti-dictatorship student protesters and indicated the army would have to go through him first if they attacked.

If mostly amateurish in the manner of a hastily assembled tribute video, "Baboya" — a reference to Kim's tendency to refer to himself as a "fool" — nevertheless grasps the essential point that when it comes to spiritual leaders, gestures, actions and modesty mean everything.

And in these bitter times for scandal-weary, authority-skeptical Catholics, the story of a man fiercely tethered to his denomination's deepest social-justice issues might be precisely what the faith-doctor ordered.

"Baboya." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.

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