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Ancient Chinese board game treated with NFL-like drama and intrigue in documentary 'AlphaGo'

Ancient Chinese board game treated with NFL-like drama and intrigue in documentary 'AlphaGo'
Young children learn to play Go in Seoul in the documentary "AlphaGo." (Kreg Kohs / Reel as Dirt)

On paper, a 90-minute documentary involving the playing of a 3,000-year-old Chinese board game wouldn’t seem to lend itself to adjectives like “lively” and “compelling,” but darned if Greg Kohs’ “AlphaGo” isn’t those things and more.

Chronicling a weeklong 2016 tournament in Seoul between long-reigning international Go champion Lee Sedol and the computer program AlphaGo, devised by London-based DeepMind, the film is choreographed with all the drama and intrigue, both on and off the “field,” found in the director’s Emmy Award-winning work at NFL Films.

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It helps matters when you have a group of engaging human subjects like soft-spoken Sedol, who’s as intensively contemplative as the game itself, contrasted by the spirited, personable Fan Hui, the Paris-based European champ who accepts an offer to serve as an advisor for the DeepMind team after suffering a demoralizing AI trouncing.

Spurred on by a propulsive score by Hauschka’s Volker Bertelmann, who was Oscar-nominated for the stirring “Lion” soundtrack, this man versus machine match-up generates a number of truly unanticipated moves, both strategically and philosophically-speaking.

While the event, which was watched by an estimated 200 million viewers (almost twice that of this year’s Super Bowl) and reportedly resulted in a global shortage of playing pieces, will unlikely prompt gamers to unplug their Xboxes anytime soon, Kohs will, at the very least, have you thinking about what he could do with Parcheesi.

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Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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