Best known as the main dancer of superstar boy group, BTS, J-Hope (real name, Jung Hoseok) is a rapper and an unparalleled performer as well. Anyone who has ever been to a BTS concert will attest to his fiery stage presence. He is also the boy band’s resident sunshine and often introduces himself with a catchphrase, “I’m your hope, you’re my hope.” His energetic demeanor and big smile never fail to lift the spirits of his members and ARMYs, BTS’ dedicated fans.
But underneath his cheerful antics and infectious grin is a human, one who feels frustration, distress, and self-doubt. J-Hope in the Box, a documentary released on February 17th, 2023 on Disney+, sheds light on the human behind the performer and offers a glimpse into the arduous preparation behind his solo activities. At the same time, it tells the story of J-Hope’s quest to find his authentic artistic style and the connections he builds along the way.
The 85-minute documentary focuses on the activities preceding the release of J-Hope’s second album, “Jack in the Box,” and the dancer-rapper’s debut solo performance headlining Lollapalooza 2022. The title of the film references both the story of Pandora’s box from Greek mythology and the jester-like toy springing out of the box, representing the hopefulness and positivity J-Hope embodies, while acknowledging that there are aspects of him that run contrary to that sanguine persona.
Rather than progressing chronologically, the documentary is structured into mini chapters that show the preparation for an activity, be it an event or stage, alongside the activity itself. This allows viewers to understand the thought process behind aspects of the stage and the doubts, worries, and hard work that goes into every piece of the performance.
One of the more profound moments in the film is one of J-Hope’s monologues, in which he questions why he deprives himself of freedom, choosing to spend days on end in his studio instead of meeting up with family or relaxing, but he comes to the conclusion that the art he produces is worth the “pain of creation.” He has a clear artistic vision and is driven by a desire to express himself authentically. Viewers see that the “backstage” version of J-Hope is just as friendly and warm as his public image and that he happily goes out of his way to greet all the staff and supporting performers as if they were old friends. The film also shows how his amazing capacity to connect with others shines through in his lyrics, and it also highlights his dedication to performing in a way that best connects with the audience, whether that be hiring a sign language translator, customizing the onstage screen text, or working with dancers and musicians that reflect Chicago’s diversity.
The documentary avoids glamorizing the life of a top-notch performer, opting to focus more on the hard work and, at times, mundane realities of an album release and concert preparations, like the endless days in the studio, the physical and emotional toll of practicing and performing. Having been a member of BTS for many years, J-Hope is acutely aware of the emotional support that comes with being in a group, and he’s frank about the loneliness of solo schedules. When fellow bandmate Jimin visits, J-Hope visibly relaxes and enjoys the silly banter with him. These precious moments remind viewers that behind every artist or musician, there is an unseen community of friends and colleagues bolstering their well-being and success.
Through J-Hope in the Box, J-Hope shares his artistic journey, messiness and all, with the world. At times, it’s a casual affair, with interviews taking place at practice rooms and public parks, and it can feel like a candid chat with a close friend. The film is a personal glimpse into the seemingly glamorous world of fame and music, but, just like its subject, it remains down-to-earth and accessible to both fans and non-fans, a testament to J-Hope’s commitment to authenticity and connection.