Cultural identity amongst second and third generation immigrants is a fascinating topic. In the baby boom of the fifties and sixties, the newly-relocated families of thousands of migrants across the globe birthed a generation of culturally ambiguous children in countries across the Western hemisphere. In an attempt to reignite the flames of heritage in their bloodlines, the former people of South Korea decided in the 1980s to send their children back home to a series of summer camps designed to bring out their inner Koreans. Partaking in a number of different traditional cultural pursuits, from tae kwon do to calligraphy, the idea was that the camps would make the children proud of their heritage. In his latest film, Seoul Searching, Benson Lee tells the story of one of these camps.
Looking at a group of delightfully international eighties stereotypes, Seoul Searching follows the brattish group as they discover the true meaning of their roots. From American rockers Sid (Justin Chon) and Grace (Jessika Van), to starch-collared German Klaus (Teo Yoo) and Mexican ladies man Sergio (Esteban Ahn), each of the Kims and Parks struggle to adapt to the lives their parents once lived.
Our characters begin as rather outlandish, and, to be frank, outright annoying archetypes; the punk, the jock, the princess; but, much like in the eighties tradition of John Hughes, as they grow to accept each other and the world around them, we develop an affection for each of their foibles, and by the time they reach the end of their journey together, it’s very difficult not to get caught up in their emotional tales. Despite this being a quest to find their cultural roots, it ends up being more of a voyage of discovery of the wider world around them. Each child’s revelation is as meaningful as the other; Sid’s father issues, made miniscule by a tragic revelation by the camp’s stalwart leader, army boy Mike (Albert Song) admitting the truth behind his machismo, and the beautiful moment when bohemian Kris (Rosalina Leigh) finally reconnects with her birth mother; each is meaningful and utterly believable.
With a great soundtrack, and some fine performances from the international cast, Seoul Searching is an endearing insight into not only what it means to be Korean, but what it means to be human despite the labels that society may try to force upon us. It’s The Breakfast Club, just with a little more kimchi.
Dir: Benson Lee
Scr: Benson Lee
Starring: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-Pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Rosalina Leigh
Prd: Andrea Chung, Benson Lee
DOP: Daniel Katz
Music: Woody Pak
Country: South Korea
Run Time: 105mins
Asia House Film Festival takes place from 22 February to 5 March at London venues http://asiahouse.org/