By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Writer
Wearing a leather jacket, dark shades and spiky hair, teen Sid Park (Justin Chon) arrives at Seoul Kimpo Airport acting as high as a kite. He’s set to embark on a summer of excessive drinking, teen hi jinks and, unbeknownst to him, soul searching. Seoul Searching is also the title of the independent film set in 1986 from director Benson Lee which premiered at Sundance last year and is now on a 30 city run in the United States.
Lee tells AsAmNews that Sid who he describes as an “American punker” is the character that most resembles him.
“I wasn’t as hardcore as Sid, but I was definitely a rebel back then,” Lee said. Just as with Sid, Lee himself was sent by his parents to summer camp in Seoul to get in touch with his Korean culture. Along the way, Sid learns a lot about himself.
The characters on the surface are quite superficial. There’s Sid’s roommates Sergio Kim (Esteban Ahn), a Korean Mexican obsessed with getting the ladies, and Klaus Kim (Teo Yoo), a Korean from Berlin whose the most serious of the three. He also has a knack for getting the booze.
It doesn’t take long for the boys to discover the girls are on the third floor which is strictly off limits to them, unless they want to risk suspension. They quickly get to know Grace Park (Jessica Van), a tall hard edged beauty out to seduce the guys and Kris Schultz (Rosalina Leigh) whose back story leads to one of the most emotionally wrought moments of this film. Overseeing all the kids is tough head teacher Mr. Kim (In-Pyo Cha) who’s hiding some issues of his own.
Beneath all the superficiality however are carefully crafted layered characters who become the backbone of this 80’s period piece. For instance, Sid acts out and gets in trouble when all he really wants is to be loved. Underneath that toughness, he has good heart and tries to do good.
“On one hand, my goal was to create entertaining characters, which is why they may come off as archetypes initially. On the other hand, I wanted to challenge those archetypes by showing a more personal side to each character,” Lee explained. “The only way you can do that is by exposing their vulnerability and personal issues. It’s these moments that are most poignant and helps to redefine how you view and relate to the characters in the film.”
Despite an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 77% from the critics, distribution has been limited. Lee says limited resources has meant the film has had to rely on word of mouth to get people out to see Seoul Searching. Despite that, Seoul Searching may be one of the most successful Asian American movies in decades.
“It basically doesn’t exist outside of the Asian American film festival circuit,” said Lee when asked about the state of Asian American filmmaking. “We’re the first Asian American Film to go wide (30 markets) since Better Luck Tomorrow, so in that sense, we haven’t come that far. But, there have been so many amazing AA films made since BLT premiered that deserved to be distributed widely but never got the opportunity. Regardless, I’m optimistic for the future because things are changing. We have more Asian Americans working behind the camera than ever before.”
Lee says his next English language movie will be about the world of Kpop. He declined to reveal any further details.
Seoul Searching opens in San Francisco and Seattle on Friday.
WASHINGTON D.C. JULY 8 – 21 ANGELIKA POP-UP PURCHASE TICKETS
HONOLULU JULY 8 – 14 CONSOLIDATED KAHALA PURCHASE TICKETS
CERRITOS. CA JULY 8 – 14 HARKINS THEATER PURCHASE TICKETS
DALLAS, TX JULY 15 – 17 ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE PURCHASE TICKETS
SAN FRANCISCO JULY 15 – 21 THE ROXIE PURCHASE TICKETS
SEATTLE JULY 15 – 21 THE SUNDANCE CINEMAS PURCHASE TICKETS
TORONTO JULY 22 – 28 THE KINGSWAY THEATER LINK COMING SOON
CALGARY JULY 22 – 28 THE PLAZA THEATER LINK COMING SOON
LA HABRA, CA JULY 29 – AUG 4 REGAL LA HABRA LINK COMING SOON
JOHNS CREEK, GA AUG 5 – 22 – 28 THE PLAZA THEATER LINK COMING SOON
BALTIMORE AUG 11 CREATIVE ALLIANCE LINK COMING SOON
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