Cindy Lou Howe didn’t travel to South Korea with the intent to make a film—but that’s exactly what happened when she saw the social gaps and cultural divides that continue to exist between “pure-blooded” South Koreans and multi-racial individuals, the nation’s fastest growing minority group.
Howe, a mixed-race Korean American herself, first left the United States for her birth country (she was born in Seoul and left as an infant) to teach at a school specifically geared towards accommodating mixed-race and non-Korean students living and attending public school. What Howe witnessed as a teacher would eventually become Even the Rivers, a new documentary project in the works that examines how the South Korean public school system is trying—and seemingly struggling—to accommodate the growing number of mixed-race, multi-ethnic and non-Koreans in the country.
“I’m hoping there’s a broader discussion about what it means to be Korean–that’s the underlying thing about the film: are Koreans in Korea ready to redefine what it means to be Korean?” Howe said during an interview in July. “But at the same time, to look at what the potential future holds for Korea. We have to look at the statistical fact that 97 percent of Koreans have a high school diploma in Korea, but conversely when you look at multi-racial individuals in Korea, only 15 percent have a high school diploma.” Continue Reading »
Grace Lee Boggs with filmmaker Grace Lee. Photo by Quyen Tran.
‘Making a Way Out of No Way’
The 98-year-old Asian American activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs is the inspiration behind Grace Lee’s new film.
By CHELSEA HAWKINS
Gil Scott-Heron was right: the revolution will not be televised. It will begin with a conversation—at least, according to Grace Lee Boggs, the Detroit-based Chinese American and black power activist. Boggs, 98, is the subject of a new documentary, American Revolutionary, a film of ideas that centers on the art of good conversation and community outreach. Directed by Korean American filmmaker Grace Lee (no relation), American Revolutionary invites the viewer into Boggs’ home and into the beauty and hope that keeps Detroit driving onwards.
Lee met Boggs 13 years ago when she first interviewed the activist for her film The Grace Lee Project, a documentary on the many different Asian American women who share the moniker but little else. Boggs, a philosopher deeply inspired by Georg Hegel, a German idealist who focused on the exploration of intellectual ideas through conversation, made quite an impression on Lee, who grew up in an era of identity politics.
“I had never imagined someone like Grace Lee Boggs existing, rooted in the black community for so long, and I was sort of sucked in,” Lee said during a phone interview. “[Boggs is] somebody who continues, even to this day, to inspire younger people especially to become leaders, to take charge of what they want society or the neighborhood or America to be.” Continue Reading »
Ghosts Calling Home
Kalliope Lee’s debut novel, Sunday Girl, channels the souls and unresolved wounds of the Korean “comfort women.”
Kalliope Lee is summoning spirits—and she wants you to listen. Lee’s novel Sunday Girl is a kind of literary séance, a book that explores tragedy, sexuality, death and healing through the story of the “comfort women.”
Over 20 years ago, when Kim Haksoon—the first former “comfort woman” to come forward publicly—accused the Japanese of abducting young women and forcing them into sexual slavery, Lee was deeply disturbed by the revelation. How could such atrocities be kept secret for so long? The silence that was imposed on these women weighed heavily on Lee, and she felt compelled to speak out. Or, more accurately, to write.
“I felt very connected to the plight of the comfort women and a lot of the oppression of Korean women throughout history,” Lee said during a phone interview in early August. “I felt like it was still very much a part of me and my soul, and that the writing of Sunday Girl was sort of—I hate using this word, but it’s exactly how it felt— an exorcism. [I felt] that I needed to really connect with these voices in me of my ancestors who were never heard.”
Lee explained that throughout the process of researching, writing, editing and rewriting, she felt a sense of obligation to tell the story of these women whom history has continually tried to hush and erase. Continue Reading »
Headed to the Altar
After many fits and starts, filmmaker Christine Yoo’s Wedding Palace—starring an Asian American cast—is finally making its way to theaters.
By CHELSEA HAWKINS
If you’re hearing wedding bells, it might just be for Brian Tee and Kang Hye-Jung. Korean American Tee and South Korean Kang, in her first-ever English-speaking role, lead this fall’s Wedding Palace as Jason Kim and Na Young Song, a long-distance couple on their way to the altar (hopefully).
But if you’re having a bit of déjà vu, it might be because Tee, along with comedian Bobby Lee and actress Joy Osmanski, graced the cover of KoreAm back in March of 2012 to promote the film, which largely came together only after the Korean American community stood behind director Christine Yoo. Los Angeles’ K-town wanted this film as much as Yoo did, and at that time, it was expected to be released a year ago. But distribution deals failed to come together, and Yoo was left with a finished film, but not the nationwide theaters to showcase it.
Opposition from traditional distributors often came for two reasons: one, they were unsure how to market a film that boasts an all-Asian cast to a wider audience, and two, a belief that the Asian market, which was the target market, was too small to be truly profitable. Continue Reading »
Chicago Korean Festival Gets Makeover
In its 18th year, the cultural event tries a fresh new approach, with b-boy performances, a kimchi-eating competition and a 5K featuring bride-and-groom racers.
By CHELSEA HAWKINS
Every year, thousands of people flock to Kimball and Kedzie near Lawrence in Albany Park—an area aptly nicknamed “Seoul Drive”—for the two-day Chicago Korean Festival, or KFest. Koreans and non-Koreans alike come for the food—the spicy tteokbokki, the slightly sweet, always savory and perfectly charred bulgogi—but they stay for the performances, from joyous pungmul drummers to elegant dancers. It’s a celebration of the Korea of the past, keeping alive traditional art, music, performance and food.
But this year was a year of change. Yes, you could still get all the hobakjeon and patbingsu your heart desired, and, yes, you could watch rough and rowdy traditional ssireum wrestling, but you would also be getting a taste of the Korean American community of today. That translated into: b-boy performances, K-pop dance shows, the festival’s first-ever kimchi-eating competition, and a kimchi-making demonstration by Beverly Kim, who appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef. Expanding past the usual Korean food fare, there were also, for the first time, Filipino vendors offering up hot and crispy lumpia.
One Korean American couple even started their wedding day at the festival’s 5K race—the bride, Kyungju Um, running in her veil, and the groom, Brent Seungho In, racing in his tuxedo, with their two bridesmaids and two groomsmen trailing behind them.
“We planned our wedding date for August 11 and then discovered that the Chicago Korean Festival was having their 5K that same morning,” said Um, a nail esthetician who met her husband at their runners’ club. “We both love running and thought what better way than to commence the beginning of our lives than with a 5K at KFest!” Continue Reading »