In the 1980s a group of foreign-born Korean teenagers who meet at a Seoul summer camp to learn what it means to be Korean. The three boys, from the U.S., Mexico, and Germany, then meet three girls who rock their world.
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★★★½ review by feedingbrett on Letterboxd
There will be those who would detract the works of John Hughes, finding his films to be entertainment fluff pieces that simplify and saturate the coming of age era with comedic shenanigans and blooming romantics. Of course, to each their own. However, I find his contributions to the genre and to the mainstream wave of 80s cinema to be fundamental and inspiring; touching upon the social disconnect between classes and ideologies, the hungering lust and curiosity of love and romance, the painful trials in attaining respect from both within themselves and from others, and emotional baggage that compounds their tensions with their parental figures and those who don an authoritarian stance. It is a moment where identity is painstakingly searched, choked by the grips of the past while fearful of the ambiguous blur of the future.
It seems that director Benson Lee was heavily inspired by the works, contributions, and mindset of Hughes during his production of Seoul Searching; a film that takes place in 1986, set against the backdrop of a summer camp that aims to teach the heritage of foreign assimilated youths. During their stay, they begin to understand what it means to be Korean, dissecting the baggages that they have carried with them on their journey, and establish new connections that may initially seem impossible.
Almost as if lifted from the Hughes playbook, it provides the audience with a wide array of teenagers, each entering the scene with an identifiable definition of who they are; here we have a punk by the name of Sid (Justin Chon), a rebel princess named Grace (Jessika Van), the Mexican ladies man ‘Sergio’ (Esteban Ahn), there is the adopted Kris who is a gentle soul (Rosalina Lee), the militarian hot-head ‘Mike’ (Albert Kong), the reserved German ‘Klaus’ (Teo Yoo), and finally the tough and feministic ‘Sue-Jin’ (Byeol Kang). Each with their own distinctive personalities, strengths and burdens, and yet never seeming like a clone of one another, and linked by their synonymous experiences which eventually compels one another to gain empathy; the foundation of respect and compassion.
Lee’s inspirations and intentions are familiar, admirable, honest, and heartfelt, with each character managing to grow out of the shells that they were introduced with, finding the beauty, vulnerability, confusion, and hope that lingers beneath. He takes this formula and adopts the true tragedy that these children were brought up on; tackling on the socio-cultural aftermath of the Korean War, not only was the country in division, but many who departed the torn nation in the hopes of a brighter and hopeful future for the upcoming generation has brought upon it’s own share of disconnect and friction, primarily felt by these children who have been raised within such a household. Being a child of similar circumstances, but not as equally tragic in historical context, a great amount of understanding was felt and shared for these band of young individuals, and Lee manages to evoke the depth that truly defines them in a manner that is confronting and sensitive.
Much of the film’s weight is felt in the latter portions of the narrative, where characters have finally settled into their groove and start to place themselves upon circumstances that challenge their perspectives and compelled to showcase their true selves that have long hidden beneath. These interactions are not only condensed in the dialogue and development between the primary cast, as also the adults in this film, whether they may be the teachers or a long-lost mother, have something to share too and collectively presses on the thematic disconnect between parents and children, amplifying the shadow of tragedy that was indirectly left by the war.
Yes, the bulk of the film’s first 30 minutes is headachingly frustrating as the young characters are littered with dialogue that is cringe-inducing, a manner that is clearly intentional, but it’s execution is far too emphasised. Much of how they are presented feel so reductive and overbearing, to the point where I wanted to yell at the screen for the script’s lack of filter. They spit ‘80s inspired’ dialogue that feels clunky and artificial, obscuring much of the honest carefree and awkward essence that permeates youth. Thankfully the film builds on such a terrible flaw with emotional arcs that pay off, with amusing and endearing interactions along the way.
This was an example of a film that managed to redeem itself from a first quarter that I was on the verge of abandoning due to it’s almost insufferable shortcomings. Yet thankfully I endured through it and found myself impressed, inspired, and warmed. Seoul Searching does carry it’s influences far too strongly, but Lee’s passion for the particular era of cinema and the compassion that he provides for his characters, it is hard to knock the film for the intentions that it tries to reveal and share.
★★★★ review by chrisleegit on Letterboxd
As a Korean American with immigrant parents, this film touched something very deep, very personal, and very true in me.
Bursting with a lot of heart, humor, and silliness, this all Asian American cast shines as Benson Lee shares his own version of The Breakfast Club. Seoul Searching captures his personal and true story about coming of age and the journey in finding one's own identity and sense of belonging. Although at times, feeling a bit rushed or a bit sloppy in editing, I still loved every little bit of it.
★★★½ review by guilherme on Letterboxd
I’m such a fool for coming-of-age movies and the 80’s.
★★★½ review by Hatchet2121 on Letterboxd
i'M nOt GaY!!!
★★★★ review by Kira Schoof on Letterboxd
Not perfect, but v complex and is the first time I felt myself being represented they weren’t even Chinese.
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