For award-winning, Korean-American director Benson Lee, the teen movies of the eighties (think the John Hughes canon) hold a special place in his heart.But as much affection as they inspired, their abject stereotypes of Asian-American characters were something of a negative inspiration for his new film Seoul Searching, which debuts in the premiere section of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Based on his own experiences, the romantic teen comedy depicts a group of teens from the Korean diaspora as they gather together for a special, state- sanctioned summer camp in Seoul in 1986. Ostensibly, they’re there to discover their Korean heritage, but as with any normal teenagers, they have their own, fun-seeking agendas.
With Seoul Searching, Lee uses the accessible, light-hearted format of the teen rom-com to inject a little honesty into diversity. Not only capturing the voices of Korean teens from around the globe, it brings sorely missed depth to Asian characters on film. As the first Korean-American director accepted into Sundance’s Dramatic Competition — in 1998, when his film Miss Monday received the Special Grand Jury prize — Lee is well-placed to bring a candid, but entertaining portrayal of the nuances of race and identity to light.