First and second-generation Korean-Americans stormed through Seoul’s Gimpo Airport in 1986, wearing their multidimensional identities on their sleeves. This is the opening montage scene in Seoul Searching, a film that brilliantly captures a group of inquisitive teens preparing to reconnect with their roots and challenge their personal, social, and cultural identities in Seoul, South Korea. The film is inspired by a summer exchange program that writer-director Benson Lee attended in the summer of ’86.
Seoul Searching, a U.S.-Korea-China indie co-production, is a universal coming-of-age story with well-developed, multifaceted East Asian characters; it’s a comedy about teen rebellion, mixed with a little situational melodrama. It’s a necessary approach to shattering the “Bamboo ceiling,” an ongoing metaphor for Hollywood’s (and American society) inability to create better Asian representation.
Seoul Searching was an official selection at 2015 Sundance Film Festival, won the Audience Award at CAAMFest, and was the opening film at this year’s Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival (PAAFF).
Benson Lee is an ardent admirer of John Hughes’ films (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink), and this particular film was a subtle way of paying homage; filmgoers witnessed a broad glimpse into the Korean diaspora, packed with nostalgic cultural tropes from the 1980s.
Here are just a few of the sound bites from our video interview with Benson Lee:
On the nostalgic feel of the film:
“This movie celebrates youth through the context of 80s music and that era before YouTube and cellphones and all that. I just want people to feel good about when they were young.”
On the reoccurring Hip Hop element in his films:
“Music saved my life, but hip hop was something that came out that was really something contemporary for me. It was all about personal expression and taking your environment and expressing that in the most beautiful, soulful, empowering way possible.”
On being Korean-American (Gyopo 교포):
“You look like you’re from here but you’re from somewhere else,” he said. “When you go soul searching in your own country, you learn a lot of things about yourself that blow your mind.”
On the universal elements and how people from different racial backgrounds respond to the film:
“You go into the theater and everyone is there and in the dark, everyone is equal.”
Update: The theatrical premiere will also include an ’80s prom.
Find more updates on Seoul Searching, visit: https://www.facebook.com/SeoulSearchingMovie/