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Exclusive Interviews with the Director and Cast of ‘Seoul Searching’

 

Director: Benson Lee

 

KoreAm’s February/March Cover Story: Benson Lee Goes Seoul Searching With Latest Indie Feature

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Cast

 

Here are some exclusive interviews with the cast of Seoul Searching

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Justin Chon as Sid Park, a punk who has problems with authority. He doesn’t want to be in Korea that summer, and his perpetual scowl shows it. But while Sid’s clothes and sneer signal “tough guy,” they serve to cover up his own insecurities and yearning for his father’s acceptance back home.

“As a Korean American, you really had to have a definitive identity. Otherwise, you kind of get lost from the pack. There was more of an innocence in the ’80s among second-generation Koreans,” Justin Chon tells KoreAm

 

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Jessika Van as Grace Park, whose 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—don’t stand a chance against Grace, who channels an ’80s Madonna at the height of her sexual prowess.

“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,” says Jessika Van. 

 

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Esteban Ahn a.k.a SanchoBeatz, as Sergio Kim, a fun-loving party-boy from Mexico, who attends summer camp for the beautiful girls and booze, and he does his best to get his roommates—the sour-faced Sid and the solemn Klaus—to follow along on his adventures.

“Even though I’m Korean, in Korea, people treat me like a foreigner, and in Spain, they also treat me like a foreigner. I don’t have a proper identity. Those kinds of themes really touched me a lot in the movie because as you can see in the movie, we are all Koreans. We come to Korea, and we are like foreigners,” Estaban Ahn tells KoreAm. 

 

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Teo Yoo as Klaus Kim, a Korean German who arrives at camp with other things on his mindnamely his girlfriend back in Germany and future career. His parents own a small business back home and want their son to take it over, but he has his sights on bigger dreams.

“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,” Teo Yoo says. 

 

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Byul Kang as Sue-Jin Kim, one of the toughest students at camp–she’s not afraid to talk back or throw a kick at any guy who messes with her.

“She brought a whole new dynamic to the female cast,” Benson Lee says of actress Byul Kang. 

 

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Albert Kong as Mike Lee, the surly, mean, bullying, racist military student.

“Time period-wise, it’s set in the ’80s, but it’s a high school class. I think everyone remembers, especially in high school, college and even as a young adult, trying to find that sense of who you areyour place in the world. I think that’s what resonated with me the most because you see all the insecurity,” says Albert Kong. 

 

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Rosalina Leigh as Kris Schultz, an adoptee who comes to the summer camp with a larger purpose than to just learn about Korean culture.

“She had never acted before in her life,” Benson Lee tells KoreAm. “But she just had an inkling for acting. When I saw her audition tape, I was blown away. She was as good in the audition as she is in the movie. I was like, wow, this girl’s a natural actor.”

 

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Cha In-Pyo as the no-nonsense Mr. Kim, the head counselor of the summer camp.

“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,” Cha In-pyo tells KoreAm

 

News & Reviews

Los Angeles Film Festival to Hold Gala Screening for Seoul Searching

REVIEW: Justin Chang, Variety
“A unique portrait of the Korean immigrant experience distinguishes writer-director Benson Lee’s messy but endearing ’80s-set comedy.”

REVIEW: Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter
“Powered by an instantly recognizable, dance-happy soundtrack and a charismatic cast turned out in memorable period costuming, Lee’s most accessible film yet looks poised to capitalize on enduring 80s nostalgia and a refreshingly appealing premise that could see the film crossing over from niche bookings to much broader appeal.”

Wired interviews the director and cast of Seoul Searching
“I have a large ensemble cast and there’s not too many Asian-American actors out there compared to other groups,” Benson Lee tells Wired. “I decided I could probably open up my choices if I did it online. So I thought of the most popular online platform, which is Facebook.”

REVIEW: Josh Terry, Deseret News
The Sundance press guide paints ‘Seoul Searching’ as a loving tribute to ’80s pop culture and the films of John Hughes, and that affection is obvious. But the final product is far too flawed to do its inspiration justice.”

REVIEW: William Bibbiani, Crave Online
“Benson Lee’s Korean homage to John Hughes movies is ‘the sort of film we come to Sundance to discover.”

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Los Angeles Film Festival to Hold Gala Screening for ‘Seoul Searching’

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

Seoul Searching has been selected for the Los Angeles Film Festival‘s annual gala screening.

Written and directed by Benson Lee, the coming-of-age indie film premiered to popular acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and screened at CAAMFest last month. The movie is loosely based on Lee’s own experiences at a Seoul summer camp in 1986. With an ensemble cast led by Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Esteban Ahn, Albert KongTeo Yoo, Byul Kang and Cha In-pyo, the John Hughes-inspired teenage romantic comedy and its director were the subject of KoreAm‘s February/March issue.

On the television side, the Festival will hold a gala premiere for the new MTV/Dimentsion TV series Scream on June 14.

The festival runs from June 10-18 in downtown Los Angeles at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. LIVE. You can find more information on passes and the full list of films screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival website.

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Short Film ‘The Water’ Deals with Fracking, Provides Opportunities for Asian American Actors

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

Director Maritte Go quit acting due to the limited, “cardboard cutout” offerings available for Asian Americans. When she applied to become a Fellow with Project Involve, a program promoting diversity in the film industry, Go saw an opportunity to provide substantive, complicated roles for Asian American actors.

“I couldn’t just be Asian American,” Go said of her three years trying to make it in Los Angeles as an actor. “I was getting cast as the geisha, the nail technician, the sexy masseuse. I was highly sexualized and an object of desire rather than a person who had thoughts, feelings, wants and dreams. I was very turned off to the business and what it had to offer.”

Project Involved provided that outlet. For the past eight months, Go and her production team has been working on a short film called The Water–one of six short films to be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June. The film, written by Korean American writer David Harry Yoon, stars Seoul Searching actor Albert Kong as Andy, a small-scale kimchi farmer in Santa Barbara, Calif. whose cabbage crop is dying due to local hydraulic fracking, a process of injecting chemicals into deep rock to extract natural gas. His concern for his crops distracts him from seeing that his wife is also being poisoned by the contaminated groundwater.

Film Independent, a nonprofit arts organization that also produces the annual Spirit Awards, the Los Angeles Film Festival and the Film Independent Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA) Film Series, originally began Project Involve as a platform for young women of color in filmmaking. Since then, Project Involve has grown to include filmmakers from any underrepresented community in the industry.

“I see giant opportunities with Project Involve and this film,” Go explained. “I finally get to direct a piece that offers actors a real conflicted life with problems like a failing marriage that everyone experiences. It levels us as human beings and not as geishas or ninjas. I’m so thankful to a program like this that supports this type of thinking.

“We have been developing this story for months, with very in-depth roundtable discussions with the writer and all of the Project Involve Fellows, as well as our fearless leaders at Film Independent,” she added. “David, as a Korean American writer, has a very unique voice that is unmatched by anything I’ve yet to see. His style is haunting, poetic, and lends itself to such a uniqueness that really attracted our team to this project.”

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The Water 2Stills from The Water.

Kong added he liked that film doesn’t make an issue of race as the predominant theme. “[Andy] is just a farmer, being affected by fracking and painted by the brush of being a Korean farmer,” he said. “It’s just a universal theme of a man trying to take care of and provide for his family.

“This is great because it shows that this is real life and has nothing to do with race,” Kong continued. “This is a story that anyone can relate to, a struggle that any man can relate to. … We just hope to do it justice.”

The Water is wrapping up its final rounds of edits, but patrons can still support this and Project Involve’s other short films. You can donate any amount of money at the Film Independent website and choose a specific project or the general Short Film fund in the designation drop-down menu.

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Korean Film Archive Adds 94 Rediscovered Korean Films to Collection

by COURTNEY LEE
courtney@iamkoream.com

A Seoul-based nonprofit that functions as Korea’s film archive center announced this week the acquisition of 94 Korean films released between 1949 and 1981 that once were considered lost.

The Korean Film Archive (KOFA), which collects and preserves Korean films in order to pass down the country’s cultural heritage to future generations, said it received a total donation of 450 films from Han Gyu-ho, the former head of a film company. Within the collection were 94 titles believed to be lost from the likes of such notable directors as Lee Man-hee, Im Kwon-taek, Jung Jin-woo and Kim Su-yong, according to the Korea Herald.

Korean Film News reports that Han kept these films in his personal storage when his company, Union Media Company, closed. KOFA visited the storage collection in November and “spent two months to restore and identify” the films, KFN said, before Han decided to give the films to the archive.

The acquisition of these new titles is a major accomplishment for KOFA, which aims to keep films as close to their original condition as possible and restores older films through digitization. KOFA also works to make its library accessible to the public, showcasing classic films for free in its theaters as well as releasing DVD restorations.

Followers of South Korean cinema were left ecstatic by KOFA’s announcement this week. “I’m at a Korean Film Archive press conference, and there is very exciting news,” Darcy Paquet, a longtime Seoul-based film critic who runs koreanfilm.org, wrote on his Twitter page. “The recovery of 94—yes, 94!—previously lost films.”

The entire list of all 94 rediscovered films can be seen here:

The Korea Times reported that the rediscovered films include Korea’s second-to-debut female director Hong Eun-won’s, A Female Judge, (1962), Jung Jin-woo’s debut film, The Only Son, (1962) and No Pil’s Pilot An Chang-nam, (1949). Only five of the films will be screened this year since the rest require more restoration work, Paquet indicated on his Twitter feed.

Paquet, who attended the press conference, said that the screened clips of the five films “all look interesting.”

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Featured image courtesy of Huffington Post Korea

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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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Rosalina Leigh Retraces Her Past as Adoptee Kris Schultz in ‘Seoul Searching’

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

Kris Schultz didn’t know much about Korean culture growing up as an adoptee, so the summer camp seemed like a perfect opportunity to learn about the country she came from. But she secretly has a larger purpose in mind—to find her Korean parents. It’s a difficult task, especially when she doesn’t speak any Korean and adoption records might be hard to come by. With the help of Klaus Kim (Teo Yoo), however, Kris goes farther into her past than she thought possible.

When it came to casting, Seoul Searching writer and director Benson Lee took to Facebook to throw as wide a net as possible on an independent film budget. While some of the roles went to up-and-coming or established actors, the role of Kris Schultz went to (at the time of casting) 18-year-old Toronto native and aspiring actress, Rosalina Leigh.

“She had never acted before in her life,” Lee told KoreAm. “But she just had an inkling for acting. When I saw her audition tape, I was blown away. She was as good in the audition as she is in the movie. I was like, wow, this girl’s a natural actor.”

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Leigh was studying at the University of Toronto when Lee asked her to come down to New York City to give a live audition. That took a bit of figuring out: “She was like, ‘Oh, I’ll get on a bus and come down to New York,'” Lee recalled, laughing. “I was like, ‘Bus? You’re 18 and you’ve never even been outside Toronto or to the States by yourself.'”

Eventually, Leigh did make it down with her mother, and Lee said it all but confirmed his decision to cast her.

“She just blew us away. Like, blew us away,” he said. “She was as good in the audition, face to face, as when she read that script [on video]. I was so excited and happy to find her, because she’s not an easy character to cast.”

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South Korean Actress Byul Kang Kicks Tail in ‘Seoul Searching’

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

Sue-Jin Kim is one of the toughest students at camp—she’s not afraid to talk back or throw a kick at any guy who messes with her. She jumps at the chance to show off her skills in Taekwondo class and especially take on the smooth-talking Sergio Kim (Esteban Ahn), who she sees as a misogynistic idiot.

But like Grace Park (Jessika Van), there’s a reason Sue-jin takes on a strong persona: Guys like Sergio are reminiscent of her abusive father, and Taekwondo allows her to stand up to guys like him.

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Established South Korean actress Byul Kang, like Cha In-Pyo as Mr. Kim, added another huge presence to the cast of Seoul Searching. Writer-director Benson Lee raved about the person behind the character who “kicked Sergio’s ass all summer,” in particular praising the 24-year-old’s impeccable English pronunciation.

“She was amazing,” Lee said. “She brought a whole new dynamic to the female cast.”

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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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