Written & Directed By: Benson Lee Cinematography: Daniel Katz Editor: Steve M. Choe
Cast: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-Pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Rosalina Leigh, Albert Kong, Hee Jun Han, Crystal Kay, Nekhebet Kum Juch
During the 1980s, the Korean government created a special summer camp for “gyopo” or foreign-born teenagers where they could spend their summer in Seoul to learn about their motherland. While the intentions of the program were honorable, the activities of the teens were not. The program was eventually canceled after a few years because the government simply could not control the youth. Seoul Searching is a teen comedy and coming of age film, based on a true story about one of the summer camps that took place in 1986.
While this is a fun nostalgic coming-of-age movie exploring the usual themes of finding oneself and their own identities. While growing up. This film is also about culture and trying to find it. As you are misplaced. As first-generation Americans coming to grips with your heritage and history. While managing to be both.
The film would be admirable if it could have stayed on that path and for the most part it does m. As a kind of John Hughes homage as most of the characters learn something and prove to be more than the cultural identities they came with.
Most characters seem lost between their American-style selves and who they are supposed to be back in their home countries.
Then the film runs into a similar problem John Hughes was called on later in His career. Having little to no minorities in his films and the few he did playing into stereotypes and caricatures in his films. Notoriously long duk dong in SIXTEEN CANDLES and just like that film this one would have been near perfect if not for some unfortunate stereotyping.
This is interesting considering that this is a film that is about a foreign culture but liberally uses the n-word and other derogatory names for dark-skinned characters and a group of characters who have chosen to identify with rappers and hip hop. Who is more played for laughs.
As the film is set in the 1980s some of the defense might be. Oh it was a different time, but still, the one mixed character not only barely gets any screen time but when she does she is treated at first as beautiful than as a bitch and disposable.
The rapper wannabes are the ones mostly using the n-word, but their characters are treated as buffoons and comic relief. They are the few characters who get no dramatic epiphany and are gone before they can wear out their welcome. Meanwhile, the sexist, Racist good ole boy character who uses mostly racially charged derogatory terms amongst other bad behavior gets a chance to explain himself and get the audience to have sympathy for him. Which still runs the audience the wrong way. If not for that this film could be a total success, instead of wallowing in The same problems as the films that inspired it.
As it has an original cultural story. An ensemble cast who each get character arcs and times to shine. Romance and even a mentor figure in their chaperone and teacher who has his own dark secrets and a drinking problem.
It’s a worthwhile film if not for some dark clouds around it. As it does expose the audience to the culture and price of history they might not have known and gives a lesson for teenagers and foreign characters to identify with.