There is no doubt that John Hughes had a great impact on American culture in the 80’s and 90’s as he cleverly tapped into the zeitgeist and sensibilities of the era with movies such as: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Home Alone. Benson Lee, a Korean film maker whose work has aired on HBO, MTV, the Sundance Channel has produced and directed his own film “Seoul Searching”, that is inspired by John Hughes approach to movie making: but with a desire to bring it home, using Korean actors and setting it within the 80’s in Korea to considerably good effect with a premise that is humorous, insightful and engaging.
This story is adapted from a true story. The Korean government had a plan in the late 80’s to reacquaint the Korean diaspora from around the world to their Korean homeland and Korean traditions. After a few years of this experiment of the Korean government taking in these youth at these summer camps came to the stark conclusion it wasn’t worth it. These camps had lots of problems with these youth, culturally and socially. The unexpected tumultuous results taking place in these camps had the Korean government abandoned them because they failed to impress or indoctrinate these youths with Korean values. Benson’s story takes off from there with a vivid and quirky interpretation of those events using a lots of Hughes situational concepts and archetypes to tell this hilarious story.
The introductions come when the teen children of expats arrive to an official Korean welcoming team at the Seoul airport. Every character’s arrival enters in grand style, as they espouse and demonstrate the values and customs they have adopted from the countries or cities they arrived from for their Korean holiday. The United States is most strongly represented in this story with, LL Cool J Rap inspired a Hiphop threesome, a Madonna inspired “Like A Virgin” wannabe and a spiky haired leather clad Billy Idol inspired Punk are the main architypes. Europe and South America are represented too. There’s the studious German type and an amorous latin type from Mexico City. All the youth’s entrances are grand and over the top insuring the Korean representatives are blown away and completely freaked out at the prospects of guiding these youth through Korean society and traditions. It’s an exhilarating and fun moment that kicks off the story in the right direction.
What ensues after this is chaos, drunken chaos and flirtatious round robins, that challenges authority with comic mischief we can all understand, but only exacerbates the frustration and tension of the teachers attempting to guide these youths in the right direction. Justin Chon, character, Sid Park plays the disenfranchised Punk, Jessika Van play the Madonna wannabe Grace Park, the latin lover Sergio Kim is played by Esteban Ahn, are the primary players in the film with In-Pyo Cha playing Mr. Kim, their instructor and camp leader. This story is a complex dialog between various cultures and ethos, as well as, youthful energy meeting the restraints of tradition, adulthood and responsibility. This creates tension and resolution is unexpected ways between these characters as they evolve and grow. The story is as complex and befuddling as any teenager’s mind or emotions can be. The themes experienced “Seoul Searching” are: love, rejection, racism, prejudice, drunkenness, lust, sex play, rape, cultural clashes, classism and redemption. “Seoul Searching” reaches you in the same way any John Hughes’ film ever has: by introducing you to characters you grow to identify with and care about. Then there’s the story you can relate to with a mix of drama and comedy, followed with a gut punch of some real situation or meaningful truth that rest heavily on your heart with some rays of hope. The music syncs with the direction and the people involved in this story. The musical direction of Benson has treated us to in “Seoul Searching” are some of the most quintessential hits of the 80’s: which is very much like something John Hughes would do. Benson direction is compelling story telling. These talented actors portrayal provides a lot of humanity and heart in their performances that makes this a real “Hollywood Movie” told from a unique Korean perspective.
“Seoul Searching” addresses a lot of common themes we all can relate to, whether your young or old and in a sweet, charming and disarming way any generation can understand. The movie clearly has a beginning and an end: which is classic Hollywood! Benson has delivered emotionally moving movie that addresses many important ideas in a way that is entertaining and meaningful to a large base of people no matter how they identity themselves or where in the world they may live. “Seoul Searching” is a beautifully entertaining movie that has gravitas and heart warming charm.