In the 1980s, the Korean government began a summer camp for gyopo (foreign-born) teenagers to visit the motherland. The government would re-establish ties with the diaspora, parents would get a sponsored trip, and teenagers would learn about Korean culture. What could possibly go wrong? While the intentions of the program were honourable, the activities of the teens were not. The program was eventually shelved after two years because the government could not control the teenagers. Seoul Searching is based on a true story of one of the summer camps that took place in 1986.
Canadian-born, Korean-American filmmaker Benson Lee (Planet B-Boy) returns to Toronto with Seoul Searching, a raucous Sundance Film Festival selection that had audiences laughing, crying, and cheering on their feet in 2015 (while rocking out to a stunningly comprehensive 80’s soundtrack). Drawn from Lee’s own experience in the summer camp and cast in the mold of a John Hughes coming-of-age teen comedy, Seoul Searching captures the painful and hilarious journey of overseas youth returning to an unknown land with both nostalgia and freshness. And unlike a certain Hughes movie, Seoul Searching delivers a cast of global Asian characters that are complex and funny. The film’s archetypical characters — the punk, the adoptee, the tomboy, and the preacher’s daughter aren’t just familiar to us — they were us as we navigated our teen years, that time when we were all searching. – AC