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Korean German Actor Teo Yoo Finds His Identity Through ‘Seoul Searching’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Korean German Teo Yoo is a classically trained actor. He studied acting in New York and the United Kingdom and performed in theater productions back home in Germany, while traveling to and from NYC. In 2009, Yoo moved to South Korea to pursue work, but it was a struggle to adapt to Korean society.

“Just being sociable in Korea is just very tough for me,” the Cologne native told KoreAm back in January. “It required me to get rid of a lot of etiquette that I learned and adopt new ones, so there was a time when I struggled with my identity.”

Teo Yoo EsquireEsquire Korea

The struggles and insecurity also affected his acting, and that led to a disappointing audition process for Seoul Searching. Director Benson Lee found his audition tape to be less than satisfactory, despite that the character Yoo was auditioning for, Klaus Kim, was also a Korean German. But Yoo knew that Lee wasn’t just going to hand the role to him.

“He’s been struggling in Korea because he has to play Korean roles, and it’s been hard for him,” Lee said. “But he’s such a talented actor. [In Seoul Searching], he finally got to play a role where he plays himself, which he completely shined in.”

Yoo finally landed the role after he met Lee in person to deliver a live audition, and through rehearsals and filming, Yoo found his identity again as an actor and person.

“It was very comfortable,” Yoo said of the experience. “I trusted [Benson’s] direction, he trusted my character rendition. It was easy.”

Yoo spoke to KoreAm about playing Klaus, who is based on Lee’s actual Korean German roommate from the 1986 summer camp. This interview has been edited for length, grammar and clarity.

KoreAm: What did you think of the character when you first read about Klaus?

Teo Yoo: I thought he was a good archetype. I think that was my first reaction. I was like, “Oh, that’s a good character.”

I think the writing was really good in general. I’m always looking for a good narrative, not just for the plot but also for my character. So, when the audience goes through the story, I want them to see the differences [in my acting], even if it’s subtle, such as the physicality in the way Klaus would behave and carry himself.

I was looking for allowances for those kinds of cues. That drew me to it. I was really excited that there was a good piece of writing for Asians.

SAMSUNG CSCYoo, left, with Rosalina Leigh.

What were some of Klaus’ themes that stood out to you?

To boil it down, one was the ongoing relationship with a girl he’s attracted to, because he has a girlfriend back home. He has to allow himself to change.

The other was realizing what it means for gyopos and their relationships with their parents. A lot of gyopos take their situation for granted. They kind of understand—intelligently understand—the struggles their parents went through, but they don’t get it wholeheartedly. I feel like Klaus gets in touch with that experience through his interactions with Kris.

Teo Yoo Justin ChonYoo, center, with fellow cast and crew on set.

How did you interact with your fellow castmates?

We went out partying a few times. We rehearsed for two weeks beforehand. Just growing together—because we were all kind of in this unique situation—it was all very exciting. We bonded very quickly, all of us. It was such a unique summer, and I feel like the film’s story symbolically reflected what we all went through during that summer. At least for me.

It was also an independent production. The budget was tight, and it showed on the set. During production, people were stressed, but everyone came together and made a very good film.

How was it acting with other individuals who come from diverse backgrounds?

It came easily because during pre-production we had a lot of time to rehearse. Benson really wanted to go through the rehearsals because he knew production would take a lot of work. The chemistry kind of shows on screen. I believe it was easy because we all became friends with each other first and supported one another. Knowing that Esteban Ahn (plays Sergio Kim) was a first-time actor, we talked confidence into him. He’s so funny.

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Were there any themes in the movie that you connected with?

I’ve got to say, all of them. All of the characters have their unique struggles. They are kind of symbolic for situations that I have been through in my life—not to that extreme extent, but certain situations that gyopos can relate to, especially [those concerning] father issues, simply because of the generational changes and the diversity of the next generation.

I could relate to every one. There wasn’t really a unique or situation that popped out to me.

How was it working with Cha In-Pyo? What was the impact of having him as part of production?

Just seeing his face in the trailer, it was amazing that he came on board. He made an effort to be the hyung to all of us. He was really nice, and he invited us for lunch at some private club in Seoul.

I think after someone asked him, I caught him answering why he was attracted to the project. He said, when he studied in the U.S., he felt like bool-sang-hae, or compassion, for gyopos. I feel like he’s interested in projects dealing with Koreans outside of Korea and their struggle. You can tell by the films he makes, like The Crossing. I was really glad that he gave Seoul Searching this legitimacy.

SAMSUNG CSCYoo dressed up as Sid Park, Justin Chon’s rebel punk character.

How do you think fellow gyopos and South Koreans would react to this film?

I think in gyopos will really love the film. That’s for sure because it’s such a unique voice that speaks for them. Since we’ve had a good reaction at festivals, it’s kind of a stamp of approval. I know that gyopos can be very cynical (laughs), but I think the reactions are going to be good.

In Korea, I don’t know, to be honest. I feel like I’m too biased to see it objectively. I’m living here right now, and the reactions to the trailer have been amazing. The interesting thing is that all of my Korean friends and people in the industry that I’ve showed the trailer to, they were all like, “You know what, this looks like a really interesting film—looks fresh, a teenage film but so different for a Korean film.”

It’s interesting that they would accept this as a Korean film. It kind of is, but it kind of isn’t. Technically speaking, it is not, because it’s an American production. But it’s interesting that they recognized the film as new, fresh and good, and therefore, accepted it to be Korean. Whereas, maybe if they recognized something as tacky or bad, they would have labeled it gyopo.

In that sense, I was glad the reactions were positive from the quality of the trailer to the film itself. Our director of photography, Daniel Katz, did an amazing job in recreating the feel and mood of the ’80s. Everyone in Korea who’s been through that time period could relate to it, which is interesting, because they aren’t gyopos. But many of them were like, “Man, this feels so much like the ’80s of Korea.” Props to our DP!

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Cha In-Pyo Recalls the 1980s for ‘Seoul Searching’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Benson Lee knew he needed an experienced actor to portray Mr. Kim, the no-nonsense head counselor of the summer camp in Seoul Searching. The character doesn’t have too much affection for the unruly and disrespectful kids from America, especially Sid (Justin Chon), the punk who takes every opportunity to show up Mr. Kim in class.

What the kids don’t know about Mr. Kim, however, is that he used to be one of the most respected instructors in South Korea before a tragedy involving his son derailed his reputation and tore his family apart. It is a burden that weighs on his mind and heart beneath his gruff exterior.

Veteran South Korean actor Cha In-Pyo fit the bill perfectly, as Lee wanted an actor who could portray the gritty yet broken man with good command of the English language.

Mr. KimCha In-Pyo, right, as Mr. Kim in Seoul Searching.

Cha, who studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey some 25 years ago, spoke to KoreAm via email (in English) back in January about his relationships with Korean Americans and how those experiences resonated with him when it came to Seoul Searching. He also delves into his own memories of 1980s South Korea and expresses his excitement at visiting the Sundance Film Festival for the first time.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KoreAm: Where did you first hear about this movie and role? Was there something that attracted you to the project?

Cha In-Pyo: One day in the summer of 2013, Benson Lee contacted me via email, asking me if I would be interested in taking the role of Mr. Kim in Seoul Searching. I read the script first and I was interested, so I decided to meet him in person.

Benson looked like a nice and confident man, and he seemed to know what exactly he had to do to make the project real. However, at that point, the investment for Seoul Searching was not yet available and none of the cast was decided, so I was not sure if Benson would actually be able to accomplish all the necessary steps for pre-production and actually get to shoot the movie.

However, I told him that day that I would like to be the part of his movie. I had some doubt that he would actually come a long way to make it happen, but he came back exactly a year later and said, ”Let’s shoot the movie.”

The script was attractive to me because of two reasons: First, it’s a teen style story, yet it also embraces the parents-sons and daughters relationship. Second, there is no stereotyped villain in this movie. Everyone has a reason to be who they are.

What was your first impression of your character? Are there any aspects that really stuck out to you?

Mr. Kim is a typical Korean father. Being a father of three children myself, including one high schooler, I could understand why Mr. Kim had to be Mr. Kim. Every father hopes and tries to give best things for their children.

But the problem is, fathers don’t actually know what the best thing is for their children. This is where the conflict between father and son/daughter begins, especially in the 1980s. Korea was not as rich as now. So it was natural for the most fathers to think that good education is the only way to ensure children’s bright future.

That’s how education became the best thing for children, and most fathers drove their children like cattle into tough competition to get into a better college. Fathers thought it was love. But, love is not love if the beloved doesn’t feel it’s love.

SAMSUNG CSCFrom L to R: Actors Cha In-Pyo, Justin Chon, Esteban Ahn and Teo Yoo.

What was it like working with Benson Lee and being part of the vision he had for Seoul Searching?

I believe good directors need to be able to endure pressures. Benson, as a director and the producer of this project, proved himself to be a man with strong will and endurance.

I believe making a movie is all about making friends. You have to make many good friends who will listen to your direction and accomplish them accordingly. Benson became a good friend to many actors and crew members through Seoul Searching.

Personally, he became a good friend of mine. Benson and I get together once in a while to drink good scotch.

What was it like working with a diverse cast, which also had Koreans from all over the world?

It’s always exciting to work with people from different backgrounds. When you are on the set to shoot the movie, there is no Korean style or American style. There is only one style. That is the director’s style. I think Benson did a good job to break the possible barrier from the cultural diversity.

How do you think the film will be received in Korea?

I honestly have no idea. Hopefully, this film finds a good distributor both in America and Korea. I personally hope that this film will finds audiences among the 10 million Korean diasporic population and consoles their identity.

endlesslove2014-1Endless Love (2014)

What were some of the themes in the movie that you connected with the most?

The miscommunications due to the language barrier actually damaged the relationships in everyone’s families in the movie. I felt a sort of compassion towards them, because back in the old days, when I went to college in New Jersey, which was about 25 years ago, I had Korean American friends who had the same problems as the characters have in the movie. Seeing them not being able to communicate with their parents, I remember I felt compassion for my friends.

How does the setting South Korea during the 1980sadd to the tone and feel of the movie? Are there any particular memories you associate with this time period?

I went to college during the mid-80s in Korea. At that time, Korea was under a military dictatorship, and many college students participated in daily demonstration against government. Some got killed, some got kidnapped and tortured, and everyone was hurt by the military violence. I suggested to Benson that we should include some of the scenes to describe the political situations in Korea at the time, and Benson agreed to do so, but due to the low budget, he couldn’t.

What do you remember about 1980s Korea?

The smell of tear gas, first girlfriend, songs by Lee Moon-sae.

Will you be attending the Sundance Film Festival? If so, what are you most excited about for the experience?

Yes, I am attending, and this is my first visit to Sundance. My wife and I were the MCs for the closing ceremony for the Pusan Film Festival in 2006. Since then, I haven’t been to any film festivals ’til now. So, I am really excited to be at Sundance. What makes it more exciting about Sundance is that you don’t need to wear a tuxedo!

 

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Here’s what Director Benson Lee had to say about Cha:

Benson Lee: Cha is an actor I’ve always really admired. He was in a movie that blew me away, called The Crossing. It’s about a North Korean father who has to leave North Korea just to get medicine, like penicillin, for his dying wife, and the story evolves into this very tragic story about how his wife dies and all he has left is his son. It was one of the most gut-wrenching performances I’ve seen, and he was so good in it.

 Crossing2008Cha In-Pyo in ‘The Crossing’ (2008)

I just knew that he was one of the major contenders for the role. But on top of that, his English is also very good, because he studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey. His English is very good, and to be frank, it’s hard to find Korean actors who have that command of the English language, and he was just perfect. He himself is known as a humanitarian in Korea, and he’s involved with lots of humanitarian work and has his own nonprofit. He’s a very benevolent person. We needed that from Mr. Kim, but Cha could also show the grittier side to Mr. Kim too.

His range is amazing, and he actually became a very good friend of mine through this movie, and he was a total pleasure to work with.

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Justin Chon on working with Cha In-Pyo:

Justin Chon: I grew up watching his dramas. My parents would always have dramas on in the house. It was really amazing working with such a Korean icon. He’s been around forever, and he’s an OG. He’s been through it all. The fact that he’s still around means he’s so phenomenal.

Working with him was such an honor, and also so cathartic as well. My parents love that I’m an actor and they’re proud of me, but the fact that I got to work with Cha In-Pyo all of a sudden really legitimized me. It was so awesome, I loved it. It was surreal as well.

People [bring up] the moment I worked with Robert De Niro or Al Pacino, but for me, working with Cha In-Pyo was on another level with the cultural significance.

He always made me feel comfortable and never made me feel inferior or that I needed to respect him. He garnered that respect just by being who he is. I absolutely loved working with him. At the end of the day, he’s just a beautiful human.

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Jessika Van Talks Madonna, Playing a Pastor’s Daughter in ‘Seoul Searching’

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

When Jessika Van first read her lines for her character in Seoul Searching, she didn’t have much to go off of: Writer-director Benson Lee had initially sent her only three pages of dialogue. Fortunately, Van (MTV’s Awkward, Paper Lotus, The Moral Thief ) had a place to work from when portraying Grace Park in Lee’s Seoul Searching.

Grace’s provocative style of dress and come-hither look draw every guy’s attention, and she doesn’t hold back when it comes to toying with their emotions. The teenage boys at the Seoul summer camp—in particular, Sid, who is played by Justin Chon—don’t stand a chance against Grace, who channels an ’80s Madonna at the height of her sexual prowess.

The persona, however, comes from a repressed home environment. Grace has always wanted to break free of the constraints that come with being the daughter of a pastor. The role resonated with Van, who had played a similar character in a previous short film. This time, Van was able to explore that character a bit further as Grace in Seoul Searching.

The actress spoke with KoreAm earlier this year before Seoul Searching premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In our conversation, Van discussed her experience in South Korea filming with the cast and working with Benson Lee, as well as the universal themes in the film that connected with her personally.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

JessikaVan_Field2(Photo by Daniel Nguyen)

What did you think of Grace Park when you first read about her?

Jessika Van: I luckily had a little heads up from Benson because we talked a little bit, even though he only sent me three pages. He looked at another short film I’d done where I played a pastor’s daughter, where it was a very dark take on the character. She was in an abusive family, and he really liked it.

That’s kind of the jumping off point where we started our conversation. He told me how much Grace wants to be Madonna and that she’s also a pastor’s daughter, and she’s struggling before she shows up at the summer camp.

When I read the script, I could really relate to Grace because I feel like I grew up maybe not dissimilar to other Asian girls in America, or even in Asia. There’s a lot going on underneath that we feel we need to cover to stay safe, because we’ve grown up in families where showing pain or vulnerability or showing weakness isn’t thought of as a good quality.

Growing up, I was really close to both my parents but in later years, I’ve really looked up to [my dad] in the way he works and how well he did that work, and how smart and business-minded he seemed.

In many ways I tried to emulate that—I tried to emulate how put-together he is, how strong he is. Because of that, sometimes, a lot of our vulnerability and pain gets trapped inside, and it becomes even more difficult because we can’t let it out.

That’s what I love about Grace. She’s trying so hard to be Madonna. She thinks that look is strong. [She wants] to be able to express her sexuality, to know what it takes to control her sexuality. She doesn’t want to let guys be controlling that.

She grows up in a church environment where women are second-class, and they have to be kind of timid and well-put together and let that male culture dominate. But she doesn’t want to do that. This is her first chance outside of home, outside of church where she can really let loose and create her own personality.

JessikaVan_6436(Photo by Julian Walter)

What did you think about Grace’s story arc?

I loved it. It was really important to me. Benson was wonderful in that he let me really take control where I wanted to go with the character. I remember the last few days of filming, he saw (laughs) the front of my script, and I guess I had all these pages of research stapled together and things I’d written for myself. But I also had a timeline the night before my first day of shooting, which kind of took my character from the beginning of the script to the end and included everything that she went through on the inside.

I guess he saw it, and he laughed. (laughs) At the time, I kind of took it personally, because, jeez, why is he laughing at me? This is personal, you don’t have to look at it! Go away!

But later he was like, “No, I’m not laughing at you–I’m laughing because I’m impressed. I didn’t realize you did all this work, and now it makes perfect sense because I see it throughout the arc.”

To me, it was really important that Grace really is able to show that she’s not just a tough-girl act. I felt like it would run a risk of being over-sexualized, and it’s really important to me that I fight for female characters who aren’t just going to be some sexualized object in the male vision.

I really liked that she had that chance to see for herself, that maybe she isn’t as strong as she thinks she is. Maybe strength doesn’t just come from putting on some show, in which you’re acting really sexual.

Also, she can see, as Madonna did in real life, that it comes with a risk. Sometimes when you think you’re in control and you can express your sexuality the way you want to, it’s possible that people might take you the wrong way. It is possible you might put yourself in dangerous situations and that the woman needs to be aware of that. You need to be making sure that you take care of yourself and aren’t naive about the choices you’re making.

What was it like working with an ensemble cast?

It was my first experience in Korea, so it was so exciting on so many levels. The people were just the nicest, both the cast and crew. I honestly couldn’t have asked for more.

At the wrap party, Benson asked me to make a speech, and I just started crying because I felt that all the crew and cast had been so welcoming to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. Everyone was so welcoming and showed me so much love from beginning to end that I was overwhelmed by it. I was so grateful.

I have nothing but the best things to say. I thought that some of the girls were just the best. We became really great friends. They took me out in Seoul—we went out all the time*. We went shopping and bought too many things, I made them wait too long for me because I was indecisive and looked at all this jewelry and got too excited. They really took care of me. They took care of me like I was their own and I was so grateful. They were the best people.

(*Note: Van apparently went out to explore by herself, too, getting herself lost. You can read about her exploits in Korea in her interview with Audrey Magazine.)

SAMSUNG CSCJessika Van with Nekhebet Kum Juch and Uatchet Jin Juch, who play the Im twins.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

Working on set, it was pretty crazy. It was up and down. There were days that were more chill, but there were also days when we were there for a really long time. I don’t even know how to say how many hours. (laughs) The whole day, probably. We were really there for a long time. Sometimes, everyone was just really exhausted.

For Benson, I think his relationship with every person on set was different. I don’t feel that I can speak for anyone else because I know he probably has a different actor-to-director relationship with every single actor.

He talked to me about that afterwards as well. He said, “With you, I really left you alone because I felt like you already knew [what to do].” I think every actor has a different relationship with the director, because he’s smart to know to cultivate the individual relationships.

He’s a strong person. He will get sh-t done.

Benson Lee on Jessika Van:

 

“I think she’s one of the best Asian American actresses out there. She’s a completely undiscovered talent. She’s been in movies [and TV shows], but not many people know of her. They’re going to, because she’s a phenomenal actress.”

 

What were some of the themes in the film that resonated with you as an Asian American?

I guess it’s funny, that as Asian Americans, sometimes, you get this big mish-mosh, and some of us don’t even know anything about the culture or speak the language. I definitely saw that growing up. Some of my friends don’t speak the language, some do speak it. Some are really cued-in to the culture, some aren’t.

Now I see and meet more Asians from Australia and New Zealand. The other day, a cast member of mine on set showed me videos of Asian guys from his country. And I’m listening to these people, and they just sound like they have accents I can’t even comprehend. It’s crazy. Even as an Asian American, it’s crazy.

I think it’s really cool that Benson brought us all that together. But I think the themes of Benson’s story are a lot more universal. I don’t know if I would just attribute them to Asian Americans, you know? I think they would pertain to anyone growing up in America.

I also think it’s great that Benson’s putting together a film where we can really see how [Koreans] growing up in America become American. Wherever we go, if we go into other countries, the people there going to perceive us as American. We’re not going to walk into Korea and expect Koreans to perceive us as Korean, because we’re so different from them. I think that’s really an interesting fact that he’s bringing up.

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Seoul Searching premieres tonight at the Center for Asian American Media Film Festival (CAAMFest) in San Francisco. We’ll keep you updated on further news regarding the film’s distribution and screenings, so keep your eyes open and ears peeled!

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‘The Drop Box’ to Screen in Select Theaters Nationwide March 3-5

For just three nights, The Drop Box will be available to watch in select theaters nationwide through Pine Creek Entertainment in association with Focus on the Family, Kindred Image and Fathom Events.

Directed by Brian Ivie, the feature-length documentary tells the story of one man’s efforts to protect and care for newborn babies who might have otherwise been abandoned on the streets of Seoul, South Korea. Pastor Lee Jong-Rak built a “baby box”—a safe harbor to welcome and care for these babies. So far, more than 600 babies—many of whom have disabilities—have been helped. A portion of the film’s proceeds will go to support Pastor Lee’s ministry.

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the documentary:

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PastorLeeandBrianIvie.jpg  800×532Pastor Lee Jong-rak (left) and film director Brian Ivie.

After the movie screening, audiences will also be able to watch a group discussion with the film’s director Brian Ivie; musician Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth; and Focus on the Family President Jim Daly. The panelists will address issues related to adoption, orphan care and the sanctity of human life.

From March 3-5, you can visit The Drop Box website to find out when and where the film will be screening near you.

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Images courtesy of The Drop Box

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Behind the Making of ‘The Interview’

Last month, KoreAm spoke with actor Seth Rogen before the Sony cyberattack grew to its current dimensions.

 

by ADA TSENG | @adatseng
ada@audreymagazine.com

In late November, before full details of the Sony hack were revealed, Ada Tseng, a freelance writer for KoreAm, spoke by phone with actor Seth Rogen for the magazine’s upcoming cover story on his co-star Randall Park, who plays dictator Kim Jong-un in the political satire, The Interview.

Rogen is co-director, co-producer and co-writer of the controversial film (in which he stars opposite James Franco), which involves an assassination plot against the North Korean leader.

Right after KoreAm spoke with Rogen, it was revealed that the computer systems at Sony Pictures, the studio that backed The Interview, fell victim to an invasive cyberattack by a group calling itself “Guardians of Peace,” whose affiliations to any group, entity or nation remain unknown. Sony senior executives have seen their private emails leaked to the public, while sensitive data and the studio’s unreleased films have been compromised.

The North Korean government has called The Interview “an act of war” and has threatened “merciless” retaliation against the United States if the movie is released as scheduled on Christmas Day.

The controversy over the film has only ratcheted up in the last 48 hours, with the unidentified hackers making threats against theaters that planned to screen the film.

As of Wednesday morning, one major theater chain, Carmike Cinemas, pulled the film from its theaters while a scheduled New York premiere of the film Thursday evening was abruptly canceled. KoreAm‘s advanced screening slated for tonight, in partnership with Sony, was also called off Wednesday afternoon, followed by the studio’s announcement that it was canceling the film’s Dec. 25 release date, after a majority of distributors said they would not The Interview.

Whether or not the cyberattack is direct “retaliation” against the film and its brazen plotline—or just a cover-up for hackers operating independent of the geopolitical undercurrent—is unclear.

The following is an edited conversation Tseng had with Rogen last month about the producers’ idea for the film, research for authenticity and the casting of Park as Kim Jong-un. KoreAm’s December/January issue, available later this month, will feature Park on the cover.

Why did you choose North Korea as a setting for the film?

Seth Rogen: I think we were just really fascinated with North Korea. It really captured our imagination. Then we started reading more, and the more we read about it, the weirder it was. The stranger, more bizarre facts we uncovered, it fed the fire more and more. Meanwhile, we thought it’d be fun to make a movie about a journalist who’s asked to assassinate the person he’s interviewing, so we kind of combined the ideas.

I heard that the idea came way before Dennis Rodman visited Kim Jong-un in 2013. What did you think when Rodman went to North Korea? Did that help the script in any way?

Yes, our biggest concern was that the script was very far-fetched, [yet] everything we read about [Kim Jong-un] suggested he might do something like that. He loves Western culture, and as a person, he seemed to portray the image that he didn’t take himself too seriously. He was laughing in a lot of the pictures you saw of him. He still is a horrible dictator obviously, but we thought that comedically, it might be interesting if you met him and you kind of liked him. And we were like, “No one will believe us,” and then that was a concern, because the whole thing seemed so ridiculous. But then Dennis Rodman went [to North Korea] and liked the guy! We were like, “Wow, it’s exactly what we wrote, and it came true,” and if anything, it lent credibility to the movie in a way we never expected.

Did you always envision the script featuring Kim Jong-un?

When we originally wrote the script, it was [Kim Jong un’s father and previous North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-il, but then he died. When he died, we re-wrote it with Kim Jong-un.

Doesn’t that work better with the plot?

Exactly. We know less about [Kim Jong-un], and he’s younger and closer to our age.

And the film’s characters can socialize with him …

Exactly. That was the one weird part [in the original version]: Franco partying with a 70-year-old man. So when we re-wrote it with Kim Jong-un, it opened [the script] up a lot, so you believe they’d bond over more things pop culturally. Maybe they’d like the same music and movies.

What did Randall Park bring to the role of Kim Jong-un?

When we wrote [his character], it was a little more formal than how he acted. It was less adorable, for lack of a better world [laughs]. Randall really added a lot of that. As soon as he came into the room and auditioned—we read the scene where he’s at the door [meeting Franco’s character] for the first time, and says, “Hello Dave,” and he’s really shy—that, to us, was just really funny.

It seems like there’d be a difficult balance to strike with that character.

It was a conversation we had a lot and a line we were very careful with. We want to push the audience to a place where we’re like, “I can’t believe it, but I like this guy!” and then have them come back from that. It’s almost as though they’re being seduced [by Kim Jong-un] in the same way that Franco is in the movie.

Is it true that you auditioned Randall in every single scene?

Yes, we read the entire script. I think we said, “If it seems like it’s going well, we’ll keep going,” and then it seemed like it was going well.

Did you have anyone else in mind when you wrote the character?

There was no one else. So, I’m so thankful that Randall did it so well. We didn’t know for sure if it would work, to be honest.

I’m wondering about some of the North Korean scenes, in particular the one that shows kids playing instruments. Where did you get that idea from? A documentary?

That’s exactly where it’s from. Almost everything that is in North Korea that happens to [the characters once they arrive] is based on something we read. The fake grocery stores, the mountain fortress, these guitar kids trained from a young age to be proficient with giant guitars. All the facts about Kim Jong-un are based on real stuff we found.

But what’s funny about the guitar kids—there’s a documentary about North Korea that shows North Korean kids with creepy plastic looks on their faces playing the guitar, and we were like, ‘Let’s find kids that are really good at playing guitar like those kids!’ And what we found was, no kids are good at playing the guitar like those kids! [Laughs.] Only if you live in a dictatorship where you’re forced to learn guitar from a young age are you able to be that good at guitar. So we had to fake it for the movie because no kids except the kids in North Korea are that good at guitar.

What kind of balance did you have to strike for the entire movie? It’s a comedy, but at the same time, these are real-life people in real-life situations.

It was hard. We wanted to make sure we villainized the regime, not the people in North Korea. It was a conversation we had a lot, that we really need to make that distinction—that North Koreans aren’t bad, the people who rule North Korea are bad.

The hardest part about that was to do it in a way that didn’t feel heavy-handed and overdramatic and that [fit] the tone of the movie. There were a lot of conversations, like “Does Dave find a [North Korean] death camp?” Ugh, that’d feel so heavy-handed. And we felt like fake grocery stores were the perfect metaphor for the illusion of what they present versus what’s real.

Also, me and Evan [Goldberg, the film’s co-producer and co-director,] grew up watching Seinfeld and The Simpsons, [which involve] stories that are somewhat existing in the same world as the viewer. To some degree, [those characters] are planting themselves in your world and tearing down the walls that generally separate movies from real life. That, to us, was generally exciting, so that’s why calling [the film’s antagonist] Kim Jong-un to us was an interesting idea. Because it made you, as a viewer, come into the movie with all your actual feelings about Kim Jong-un, and then what’s even more exciting to us is when we undercut and subvert those feelings and make you like him.

Can you discuss the film’s ending? (The Sony hack revealed that the original ending was a source of disagreement between Rogen and Sony’s top executives, who asked for it to be toned down). 

My hope is that by the time you get to the end, it’s not “Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator,” it’s “Kim Jong-un, the guy in our movie.” We try to have our cake and eat it too, to some degree. [The film] is making fun of real life, but then it’s just trying to do what a good movie would do at that moment.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

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‘Big Hero 6′ Receives Golden Globe Nomination

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Disney’s Big Hero 6 has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Animated Feature Film.

Inspired by a Marvel comic book miniseries, Big Hero 6 follows a team of brainiacs led by 14-year-old prodigy Hiro Hamada and his huggable marshmallow-like robot, Baymax. Following a tragedy, Hiro enlists the help of his high-tech friends to hunt down a masked villain and to decipher a sinister plot that could destroy the city of San Fransokyo.

Two Korean American actors voiced supporting characters in the animated film: Daniel Henney as Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi Hamada, and Jamie Chung as the adrenaline junkie, GoGo Tomago.

Other nominees for the best animated film includes The Lego MovieHow to Train Your Dragon 2The Book of Life and The Boxtrolls.

The 72nd Golden Globe Awards will be hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and will air live on NBC at 5 p.m (PST) on Sunday, Jan. 11. You can view all the nominees and categories here.

Photo courtesy of Disney

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‘Seoul Searching’ to Premiere at 2015 Sundance

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Seoul Searching will be premiering much sooner than we thought. The Sundance Institute announced its premieres lineup for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival yesterday, and the indie film was among those listed.

Slated for a 2015 release, Seoul Searching is a romantic teen comedy set in the 1980s. The story is loosely based on director Benson Lee’s experiences at a government summer camp in 1986, which he described as one of the “craziest summers in his life.”

In Seoul Searching, a group of Korean teens are sent to a similar camp in Seoul by their parents to learn what it means to be Korean — a side to them they know little about. The story focuses on three high school boys from the U.S., Mexico and Germany and the three girls they meet. In the process of connecting with one another, they come to experience the most important summer of their lives.

The dynamic and diverse cast stars Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Cha In-pyo, Teo Yoo, Esteban Ahn, Kang Byul, Rosalina Leigh, Sue Son, Crystal Kay, Heejun Han, Uatchet Juch and Nekhebet Juch.

You can catch the latest updates on Seoul Searching by following their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram.

The Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 22-Feb. 1.

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Security Experts Doubt North Korea Hacked Sony

by MARTHA MENDOZA, Associated Press

(AP) — Some cybersecurity experts say it is unlikely North Korea was behind the cyberattack that crippled Sony Pictures’ computers and possibly leaked unreleased movies online.

Speculation has been rampant that the hard-line communist state sponsored last week’s hack in anger over the new Sony movie “The Interview,” in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play television journalists assigned by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“State-sponsored attackers don’t create cool names for themselves like ‘Guardians of Peace’ and promote their activity to the public,” said cybersecurity expert Lucas Zaichkowsky.

He said the details he has seen point instead to hacktivists, who break into computers to make a political point, often one involving the free exchange of information on the Internet. Hacktivists targeted Sony in the past.

“The Interview” comes out on Christmas. Over the summer, North Korea warned that the release of the comedy would be an “act of war that we will never tolerate.” It said the U.S. will face “merciless” retaliation.

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FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell would not comment Tuesday on whether North Korea or another country was behind the attack. The FBI is investigating.

It would be unusual if North Korea was behind the breach, said Darren Hayes, director of cybersecurity at Pace University’s computer science school.

“However, there are numerous hackers for hire” in some of the shadowy corners of the Internet, he said. “If Kim Jong Un has developed his own rank-and-file cyberattack unit, with sophisticated capabilities, then we should be very concerned.”

Sony Pictures hasn’t said how the hackers breached its system. But such attacks often start with “phishing” attempts, a compromised website or a malicious insider, said cybersecurity researcher Craig Young at Tripwire, a security software company that works with such businesses as Visa, Mastercard, Walmart and Starbucks.

Given that the hackers were apparently able to obtain unreleased movies as well as personnel records, Social Security numbers, passport photos, technical documents and other material, Young said it is unlikely they used just a single point of access.

“It’s much more likely that attackers were able to exploit a series of vulnerabilities, misconfigurations and poor network architecture to continuously increase their level of access over time,” he said.

A security expert who was part of the South Korean government’s investigation into March 2013 cyberattacks blamed on North Korea said there is not enough evidence to point the finger at the North for the Sony incident even though there are similarities.

The expert, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized by his employer to speak about the matter, said that when South Korean authorities concluded that Pyongyang was behind the attacks that paralyzed servers at financial institutions and media companies, they had not just malicious computer code but also IP addresses and other evidence.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that some other groups have imitated North Korea’s cyberattacks,” he said.

The increased dependence on cloud technology by nearly all major businesses to store their information has made them more vulnerable, said Carson Sweet, CEO of data-protection firm CloudPassage.

Sony workers last week logged on to see a message on their computer screens that said “Hacked by #GOP,” which may be the initials of a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, according to Variety.

Some unreleased Sony movies such as Still Alice, Annie, Mr. Turner and To Write Love on Her Arms were later distributed online, along with the still-in-theaters Fury, though a direct connection to the hacking hasn’t been confirmed.

Culver City, California-based Sony Pictures said Monday that it is still dealing with the effects of the cyberattack and is working closely with law enforcement officials to investigate.

Sony has brought in forensic experts from the Mandiant division of FireEye, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity company, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the companies have not yet announced the arrangement.

Mandiant helps companies determine the extent of breaches and repair the damage. It has worked on other high-profile computer break-ins, including the one at Target last year.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, Brandon Bailey in San Francisco and Youkyung Lee in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this story.

Photo courtesy of Ed Araquel / Columbia Pictures

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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