“It took me sixteen years to make Seoul Searching and bring it onto the big screen,” Benson Lee admits in the interview for View of the Arts. Seoul Searching, based on the filmmaker’s personal experiences, is an endearing youth comedy which depicts foreign-born teenagers of Korean ancestry learning what it means to be Korean, and the issues that young people must confront as they enter adulthood.
The story begins in 1986, when a bunch of Korean kids, from different parts of the world, are signed up by their parents to participate in a summer camp in Seoul, South Korea. Upon their arrival at Incheon airport, their big entrance – almost as if it was taken from Europe’s Final Countdown video, shocks the teachers straight away. Sid (a tremendous performance by Justin Chon) hails from the US and – dressed like Vicious from Sex Pistols and with a heavily styled bouffant – embodies trouble already during his first encounter with the campers; Grace (Jessika Van) with her street urchin look is a rebellious pastor’s daughter and wannabe Madonna, who comes across as an attention seeker. Michael Song (Albert Kong) is a young American soldier who pretends to be tough; Sue-jin, on the other hand, is a petite taekwondo fighter. There are also Sergio Kim (the adorable and very likeable Estaban Ahn), a Mexican teen who is after every single lady in the camp, identical twins Jackie and Judy (Kum & Jin Juch), and Klaus (a very subtle performance by Teo Yoo), a German-Korean who dresses like a cop from Miami Vice and seems to be a composed young man. Last but not least, there is the beautiful and vulnerable Kris Schultz (Rosalina Leigh) who struggles with her identity the most. The flock of youngsters causes undesirable problems in the camp – a drinking competition, secret escapes to the city and illegal selling of alcohol, which only Mr Kim (In Pyo Cha) is able to deal with.
Even though the narrative is foreseeable, the audience will enjoy the fact that every single character of Seoul Searching has its own story to tell; and these are the stories that will make you laugh and sob at times. The viewers also get to experience the feelings of sadness and anger when it comes to Mr. Kim, a teacher whose dark past clouds his judgement, especially when it comes to Sid’s (sometimes) unpredictable behaviour. The film is accompanied by memorable music by Culture Club, The Cars and Woody Pak, filled with authentic costumes, designed by Shirley Kurata, and has a decent cinematography by Daniel Katz. Before filming, Benson Lee promulgated on Facebook for virtual casting, after which he chose a fitting cast, including a first time actress Rosalina Leigh, whose performance was impeccable. Benson once said that Seoul Searching is his response to John Hughes’ films, particularly to the way Asians were portrayed in them: “I love Hughes’ films, I really connected to them as a kid, but there was a certain aspect of those films I hated, which was always the Asian-American characters”. This is the main reason why the filmmaker decided to make Seoul Searching; with this film, he put all stereotypes to sleep with his kick-ass cast and storytelling. Benson tackled a valid issue, even in a humorous way, of what it feels like to be a child of immigrant parents. This is an issue people usually don’t really consider unless they live it. The film is an engaging, funny and moving production which will remain in the viewers’ memory for a while.
Seoul Searching won the Future wave Jury Prize for “its diverse and relatable characters, quality mix of emotion and comedy, and accurate and respectful representation of teens” at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2015, and was also awarded with the Audience Award at the CAAMFest, as well as at with the The Best Narrative Feature Award at the PAAFF (Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival), both in the same year. The film will be distributed in the U.S and Canada in May 2016, but there is no further information on when it would be screened in Europe. Hopefully soon, simply because Seoul Searching is worth seeing on the big screen.
Written by Maggie Gogler
All photos: © 2015- Seoul Searching LLC