Seoul Searching (2015)
Director: Benson Lee
Casts: Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Cha In-pyo, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Kang Byul, Rosalina Leigh, Sue Son, Crystal Kay, Heejun Han, Uatchet Jin Juch, Nekhebet Kum Juch
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Running Time: 109 minutes
Based on a true story, the film takes us back to Seoul, 1986. Korean teenagers from different countries – US, Mexico, London and Hamburg who are known as ‘gyopo’ came to Seoul for take part in the government-sponsored summer training program to learn about their Korean heritage. They have their own fun in the summer camp but they have their ups and downs while making new friends, falling in love and understand their Korean roots.
It was worth the wait to get the chance to watch a Korea-US production film that solely focus on the characters’ coming of age journey realizing their Korean roots including their thoughts about the parents’ struggles. The parents have various reasons to their upmost best for their children during harsh times. It starts off with getting to each and every character in detail from the Gimpo Airport to their start of getting to know each other at school. Benson takes the initiative to characterize each and every one of them from personality and their lifestyle to 1980s outfits that suit the character well. For example, Sid Park (Justin Chon) dressed in punk rock outfit with rude but caring personality while Grace Park (Jessika Van) dressed in 1980s Madonna style with her sexy and strong personality. It is recognizable how each of them represents while the character development grows from start to finish smoothly including how the love blossoms among the main characters.
There were some bits of how the teenagers were introduced to the Korean culture during the program while others have their own fun way to getting to know the culture. Sid, Sergio and Klaus sneak out in the middle of the night and had their fun night out in Seoul followed by getting along with the gangster boss despite both Sid and Sergio don’t speak Korean. They get along because they try to fully respect both Korean culture and language. Also, the build-up on how these students get along with other students from Japan when they bumped into each other at DMZ and a Korean traditional village. Benson makes these scenes fun and adventurous in learning the Korean culture in Seoul as it relates to how teenagers, including adults, feel how we are expose to new and exciting things in a fun way.
The teenagers go through some coming of age scenarios besides making new friends: falling in love and understanding the parents’ struggles. Benson narrows it down to focus on the couples’ love stories in some parts of the storyline. What strikes me is how they start to understand and fall in love with each other is by listening to their life stories especially their relationship with their parents and being happy for being accepted by them. From plot to plot, the love and understanding between each other blossoms beautifully.
The most heart trembling scenes are about understanding what the parents have been through and reasons to provide better lives for their children. It is along the line on how the teenagers could express their emotions by saying ‘I love you’ or ‘Mom’. They also express their doubts about how they feel respected by their own parents such as the relationship between father and son that can be seen in the emotional conversation between Sid and Mr.Kim. The powerful role as mothers was also mentioned. Although Sergio, Sue Jin and Kris’s mothers have gone through a lot in being hit by their fathers, they do their upmost best in providing love and support for the children. One of the most touching scenes was when Kris and her biological mother meet face-to-face without Klaus. Although they couldn’t speak and understand each other’s language, when Kris said ‘Mom’ in Korean, the mother cries in tears that sparks the most teary bonding moments between mother and daughter. Falling in love and relating to stories about parents’ struggles co-relates with one another that conveys the meaning of love and understanding each other’s stories.
Benson places beautiful and meaningful layers of scenarios Seoul Searching. It has wonderful character development, chemistry between characters and the storyline build ups smoothly. The casts portray the individual’s character and story amazingly. Every layer is knit together well into a warm quilt that associate with coming of age, Korean roots and family values.