At this point in pop culture, a formula for revealing documentaries has long been agreed upon. The subject shares a little of their pre-fame life, praises their fans, details their motivations to enter the spotlight but laments the struggles they had to go through to get there – and the challenges that have continued to pop up since. In the case of K-pop docs, there’s a lot of focus on the trials of trainee days and interspersed clips of high octane performances.
NCT 127: The Lost Boys contains all of this, but also shakes up the systematic approach in favour of something unique and, at times, a little surreal. Over four parts, the series makers tick all of the boxes of the above – there’s footage from the boyband’s ‘Neo-City: The Link’ world tour and several instances of the members getting emotional on camera. But, as they share stories from their childhood for the first time, their individual tales are illustrated in ways that range from interesting to unusual.
Early in each episode, a montage introduces what’s to come, explaining that NCT 127 will reclaim their childhoods through performance art. Two to three members take the wheel per instalment and open up about hardships, bullying and fears their dreams would never come true. Jaehyun recites his account half as a traditional documentary interview and half as a stand-up comedy routine in front of a small, enthusiastic audience. Leader Taeyong goes back to his school days via animation and a recreation of him telling a girl he liked her. Yuta conducts his interview from a subway carriage that later turns into a stage for a performance of his solo song ‘Butterly’.
The Lost Boys’ refusal to walk the path commonly taken by documentary-makers should be commended, but sometimes – particularly in the first episode – it feels jarring. It’s like an AV piece you might stumble upon in a dark room of an art gallery, with moments that compel and an atmosphere that feels quiet and intimate throughout, but it can be hard to tell if it’s actually any good or just so unorthodox you’ve been caught off guard.
Ultimately, once all four parts have been pieced together, it feels like a gentle triumph. There’s plenty in here to interest new fans and die-hard NCTzens alike, while the members’ stories don’t feel forced or insincere at any point. As docuseries go, it succeeds at making you feel like you’ve been given a deeper insight into its subject, giving a human touch to a group that often feels larger-than-life.
NCT 127: The Lost Boys is available to stream on Disney+, as well as Hulu in the US
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