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The 12th New York Korean Film Festival Opens at BAM

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The 12th New York Korean Film Festival (NYKFF) will showcase record-breaking blockbusters and critically acclaimed indie films created by some of South Korea’s most celebrated filmmakers from Thursday, Nov. 20 through Sunday, Nov. 23.

Co-presented by Subway CinemaBAMcinématek and the Korea Society, NYKFF will screen seven feature films at BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn. In addition, DramaFever will stream two additional films, The Fateful Encounter and M, on its website as an extension of the festival. All films are in the Korean language with English subtitles.

Here are the descriptions for this year’s NYKFF films:

Gyeongju (U.S. Premiere)

Director: Zhang Lu

Cast: Park Hae-il, Shin Mina, Yoon Jin-seo, Kim Tae-hoon, Shin So-yul, Baek Hyun-jin, Ryoo Seung-wan

Screening: Thursday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Opening the festival on Thursday is Director Zhang Lu’s offbeat romantic comedy Gyeongju. The film follows a Peking University professor as he embarks on an impulsive trip to the Korean city of Gyeonju in search of an erotic painting he had seen years ago on the wall of a teahouse. When he arrives at the teahouse, he fails to find the picture and soon befriends the beautiful, mysterious proprietress.

Lu will appear in person for a Q&A session following the screening.

The Attorney

Director: Yang Woo-seok

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Young-ae, Oh Dal-su, Kwak Do-won, Siwan

Screening: Friday, Nov. 21 at 7:00 p.m.

Based on the real-life events of human rights activist and former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, The Attorney is a court-room drama set in the early 1980s and follows a greedy tax attorney as he takes on the country’s National Security Law by defending a student activist, who was arrested without warrant and tortured by government interrogators.

The film was the most controversial box office hit to be released in 2013 and quickly became the eighth best-selling Korean film of all time.

A Hard Day

Director: Kim Seong-hun

Cast: Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Jeong Man-sik, Shin Jung-keun, Kim Dong-young, Joo Suk-tae

Screening: Friday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 p.m.

Slick police thriller A Hard Day begins with a detective accidentally running over a stranger with his car while on his way to his mother’s funeral. After hastily stashing the body in his mother’s coffin, the detective receives a call from an anonymous stalker who claims to have witnessed his hit-and-run. Instead of asking for money, the stalker demands to know the body’s whereabouts, causing the detective to desperately cover his tracks.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Director: Kim Han-min

Cast: Choi Min-sik, Ryoo Seung-ryong, Cho Jin-woong, Jin Goo, Lee Jung-hyun

Screening: Saturday, Nov. 22 at 6:45 p.m.

Arguably the biggest Korean blockbuster to hit South Korean theaters this year, The Admiral: Roaring Currents depicts the 1597 Battle of Myeongryang and tells the tale of Korea’s most celebrated historical hero, Admiral Yi Sun-shin, who attempts to defend his nation against a formidable Japanese fleet with only 12 battleships at his command.

Man on Heels

Director: Jang Jin

Cast: Cha Seung-won, Oh Jeong-se, Esom, Ko Kyeong-pyo, Ahn Kil-kang, Lee Eon-jeong

Screening: Saturday, Nov. 22 at 9:30 p.m.

Marking the return of Jang Jin, one of Korea’s most inventive writer-directors, Man on Heels is a film noir that follows the story of a cold-blooded homicide detective, who desperately wants to become a woman. However, when the detective decides to move forward with undergoing a sex change operation, his plans get derailed by a gang that is determined to take its revenge against him.

The Pirates 

Director: Lee Suk-hoon

Cast: Kim Nam-gil, Son Ye-jin, Yu Hae-jin, Lee Kyoung-young, Kim Tae-woo

Screening: Sunday, Nov. 23 at 4:45 p.m.

Channeling Hollywood’s Pirates of the Carribbeans, Lee Suk-hoon’s swashbuckling period comedy, The Pirates, is set during the dawn of the Joseon Dynasty and follows rival parties of pirates and bandits as they clash to hunt down a gray whale that has swallowed a royal seal. The film features an A-list ensemble cast, including Son Ye-jin as a female pirate captain and Kim Nam-gil as a mountain bandit.

Futureless Things (North American Premiere)

Director: Kim Kyung-mook

Cast: Kim Su-hyeon, Yoo Yeong, Jeong Hye-in, Gong Myeong, Shin Jae-ha

Screening: Sunday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Closing the festival is Futureless Things, an episodic comedy of manners that takes place within the span of 24 hours at a convenience store and gives an intimate glimpse into the intertwined lives of part-timers, college dropouts, North Korean defectors, and social outcasts who occupy the shop.

Director: Lee Myung-se

Cast: Kang Dong-won, Kong Hyo-jin, Lee Yeon-hee

Screening: Streamed online on DramaFever (Nov. 20-23)

M, which premiered at the 2007 Busan International Film Festival, is a visually riveting and expressionistic drama that follows a young novelist, who suffers from writer’s block and insomnia. As the writer falls into a nervous breakdown, he becomes haunted by what appears to be memories of his first love. Filled with dream sequences and hallucinations, M is the closest spectators will ever come to dreaming with their eyes open.

The Fatal Encounter

Director: Lee Jae-kyoo

Cast: Hyun Bin, Jeong Jae-young, Jo Jeong-seok, Jo Jae-hyeon, Han Ji-min

Screening: Streamed online on DramaFever (Nov. 20-23)

Marking Hallyu star Hyun Bin’s first film after being discharged from his military service, The Fatal Encounter follows an elaborate plot to assassinate King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. Based on a real-life assassination attempt on Jeonjo in 1777, the period film depicts the 24 hours that leads up to the said event and is packed with betrayals and shocking twists.

To learn more about NYKFF or to purchase tickets for a film, visit the BAMcinématek website. Below is a run-down of the festival’s schedule. 

BAM Rose Cinemas
30 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Thursday,  November 20
7:30 pm  Gyeongju
With Q&A with Director Zhang Lu

Friday, November 21
7:00 pm  The Attorney
9:30 pm A Hard Day

Saturday, November 22
7:00 p.m. The Admiral: Roaring Currents
9:30 p.m. Man on High Heels

Sunday, November 23
5:30 p.m. The Pirates 
8:00 p.m. Futureless Things



San Diego Asian Film Festival ‘Remembers Queer Korea’


Gay South Korean filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo and his partner, Kim Seung-hwan, made headlines in the media last year when they held a public wedding ceremony and attempted to register as a married couple in Seoul. It was hailed as a “trailblazing” act in a society where same-sex unions aren’t recognized, while traditional values and religious conservatism keep a tight lid on any LGBT discourse.

It was certainly a bold move in modern Korea, but it definitely wasn’t the first time LGBT issues came up in Korean history and popular culture, according to Todd Henry, an assistant professor and acting director of the Program in Transnational Korean Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“As someone who is studying history, I just have to say to myself, maybe this is just a media play, that newspapers want publicity,” Henry told KoreAm. “But in terms of historical background and [record], why is it that South Korean society wants to forget that it has a tradition of same-sex people who try to dignify their relationships through matrimony?”

Researchers in South Korea and the United States, including Henry have traced LGBT and queer themes through Korean history, but they’ve never been able to gather in one place—until this past weekend. The Pacific Arts Movement, in partnership with UCSD, held a landmark retrospective on the subject this past weekend at the 15th Annual San Diego Asian Film Festival. Titled “Remembering Queer Korea,” the program featured screenings at the UCSD campus for six South Korean films, a video exhibition featuring an all-female musical troupe and a three-day academic symposium.

“The program represents our interest in giving context to Asian cinema and Asian cultures,” said Brian Hu, the artistic director for the festival, “that there is a history to the kind of independent production and self-represenation going on in Korea and elsewhere.

“When we think of seeing no limits, we also want to inspire audiences to see beyond the limits of the present, in addition to seeing beyond heteronormativity, especially as it has shaped discourses of the nation and globally in Korea,” Hu continued, speaking on the theme of the festival, “See No Limits.”

The six films, in particular, evoke the “remembering” among different genres. Dramas like The Pollen of Flowers (1972) and Sabangji (1988) were released into a repressive environment during the presidential dictatorship period. Other films, like the drama Broken Branches (1996), which dealt with the subject of homosexuality and family, were released at a time when South Korea was experiencing a wave of social changes.

Broken-Branches-2-770x433Broken Branches (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Sabangji-2-770x433Sabangji (Photo courtesy of San Diego Asian Film Festival)

Henry was a graduate student in South Korea in the 1990s, and became involved in some of the movements taking hold. Human rights and student organizations, as well as film festivals, were leading the discourse, particularly in LGBT topics.

“I was very curious to know the deeper roots and origins of the kind of phenomena I was witnessing in the 1990s,” Henry said. “It occurred to me that it probably wasn’t the first time that a film dealing with LGBT issues was screening, nor was it probably the first time that two people of the same sex were seeking to get married or falling in love with one another.”

“Remembering Queer Korea” came from that curiosity and eventually took tangible form once Henry took up his position at UCSD in 2009. After Henry met the members of the Pacific Arts Movement (then called San Diego Asian Film Foundation), the project began taking shape.

“The idea was that filmmakers were doing a lot of the same kind of work that academic historians were: doing interviews, writing their own narratives of modern Korea,” said Hu, now in his fourth year with the festival. “Meanwhile, there are queer images from the 1970s and ‘90s in Korean cinema that serve as an archive of a similar counter-history. So we put together a slate of films that allow history, curiosity, cinema and memory to speak to each other in creative and provocative ways.”

On the academic side, Henry said there was a “scattered discourse” of “scattered people” working on LGBT topics in South Korea, which is why the symposium over the weekend was so special. Nearly a dozen researchers from South Korea and the U.S. led a three-day discussion on LGBT themes in modern Korean history, from the early 20th century and into the present.

Henry said the goal is to publish a book with the other researchers that would challenge what people may think about same-sex marriage in South Korea. The book would also aim to provide an overview of how queerness has appeared in modern Korean history and how we might rethink that history from this new perspective.

“In Korea [same-sex marriage] is seen as something relatively new,” he explained, “as in it just happened in the past 10-15 years, or it’s simply an import from the United States or Europe–that is to say, foreign and not indigenous to Korea.

“My work aims to debunk that national myth by showing that throughout the post-1945 period, discussion and debate about women who, although not officially and legally marrying one another, were nonetheless unofficially and symbolically marrying one another was a very frequent and important part of South Korea’s low-brow popular culture.”

Yeosung gukgeuk, a traditional form of all-female musical theater, was also popular in Korean pop culture during the 1950s. It’s the subject of artist siren eun young jung’s project “(Off)Stage / Masterclass,” her latest exhibition in exploring gender roles in traditional Korean performances. Siren spent years studying the possibility of yeosung gukgeuk translating to the modern feminist perspective and through the subversiveness of gender politics, according to Blouin Art Info.

The documentary The Girl Princes (2012), which also screened at the festival, chronicles the short-lived rise and brisk fall of yeosung gukgeuk and follows many of the former performers today as they reminisced on their careers and legacies. During their heyday, Hu writes, the stars were idolized by fans to the point of even stalking and suicide. The women were able to explore a much broader range of emotions and experiences than what was socially acceptable in the 1950s as they formed strong sisterhoods, while some even found love.

Girl Princes 2
The Girl Princes (Photo courtesy of Indie Plus)

Girl Princes 3

Girl Princes 1

“Art brings another medium through which we try to remember the past and which has resonance in the present,” Henry said. “It’s interesting to me that in contemporary Korea, you have a female director [Kim Hye-jung] who makes Girl Princes, [and] you have siren’s art piece, which is also about the same topic. … In Korea, you have various individuals who are also writing academic papers about the same all-female theatrical group.

“I think what’s really changed in the present is that since the 1990s, the public discourse is not only dominated by outsiders who are gazing at queer things, or using them for their own exploitive or sexploitive purposes. Instead, filmmakers, authors, and speakers who represent a queer way of life, or certain kinds of queer identity have become increasingly active in representing their own interests, and on their own terms.”

a hard day still 2

5 Must-See Korean Features at Busan International Film Fest


The 19th Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) kicked off last night with a star studded red carpet and the international premiere of the Taiwanese coming-of-age-drama Paradise in Service, directed by Doze Niu. BIFF is Asia’s largest and most prestigious film festival, and this year, it will be screening 312 films from 79 countries, including 98 world premieres, during its 11-day run.

That’s a lot of movies. While it’s impossible to say which feature films are truly the best among the festival’s wide selection, here are five films that caught our attention.

Revivre (Gala Presentation)


Director: Im Kwon-taek

Cast: Ahn Sung-ki, Kim Gyu-ri, Kim Ho-jung

Based on a short story by Kim Hoon, Revivre follows the story of a middle-age executive who fantasizes about his younger female colleague as he cares for his wife who has terminal cancer. When the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this year, veteran director Im Kwon-taek said his 102nd film “contemplates the fundamental questions of life, death, and sexuality.”

Im is a celebrated director who received the Best Director Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival for his film Chihwaseon (2003). He was an honorary Golden Bear recipient at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2005.

The Liar (World Premiere)

The Liar still 2

Director:  Kim Dong-myung

Cast: Kim Kkobi, Jeon Shin-hwan

The Liar is about a young woman pretending to live a wealthy lifestyle, when in reality, she earns a meager salary as an assistant at a dermatology clinic. She tells realtors that she wishes to move into high-end apartments and boasts to her colleagues about getting ready to marry her rich boyfriend, who is actually a mere car dealer. According to BIFF, the film “exposes psychological illness caused by the negative impacts of capitalism.”

Kim Dong-myung directed her first feature, Batumba in Wonderland in 2008, and in 2011, she was invited to compete at the Vanouver International Film Festival for her film Fatigue.

Han River (Word Premiere)

han river

Director: Lee Moo-young

Cast: Bong Man-dae, Ki Tae-young, Kim Jung-suk, Kim Hee-jung

Making its world premiere at BIFF, Han River tells the story of a Catholic priest who joins the homeless community on the streets after failing to commit suicide. One of the homeless people the priest meets is a transgender man who is on bad terms with his daughter and is grappling with the decision to attend her wedding. Another homeless individual he encounters is a pregnant woman who later decides to become a nun.

Director Lee Moo-young is a well known director, screenwriter, and broadcast professional in the South Korean entertainment industry. He co-wrote several films with director Park Chan Wook, including Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Joint Security Area.

Timing (World Premiere)


Director: Min Kyung-jo

Cast: Park Ji-yoon, Um Sang-hyun, Shim Kyu-hyunk, Sung Wan-kyung

Based on the popular webtoon by KANG Full, also spelled as Kang Pool, this animated film unfolds the mystery behind a series of suicides at a Seoul high school. A teacher at the school, who can foresee disasters in his dreams, attempts to prevent the mass suicides from occurring with the help of three students, who wield supernatural abilities of manipulating time.

Many of Kang’s comics have been adapted for the screen including APT, BA:BO, Hello Schoolgirl, Pained, The Neighbor, and 26 Years. Meanwhile, director Min Kyung-jo has directed several animated TV series and features. Min’s feature Shimcheong was screened at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, and his short film Audition was showcased at the 15th BIFF.

A Hard Day

a hard day still

Director: Kim Seonghun

Cast: Lee Sunkyun, Cho Jinwoong

Slick action thriller A Hard Day begins with a detective accidentally hitting a man with his car while on his way to his mother’s funeral. He stashes the body in his mother’s coffin, but soon receives a call from an anonymous stalker who claims to have witnessed the detective’s hit-and-run. Instead of asking for money, the stalker demands to know the body’s whereabouts, causing the detective to desperately cover his tracks.

Since its world premiere at Cannes, A Hard Day received an overall positive reception from critics around the world . Variety described the film to have an “elaborately plotted narrative with poise, control and near-faultless technical execution.” According to BIFF, the film is writer-director Kim Seong-hun’s second feature in eight years and “exhibits the result of long-planned, hard work.”

BIFF will close on Oct. 11 with the world premiere of the Hong Kong noir Gangster Pay Day directed by Lee Po Cheung.

Photos via BIFF


Star Trek 3 to Film in Seoul


Star Trek 3, which is slated for 2016, will be filming in Seoul, according to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

On Sept. 29, Park spoke with Hollywood producers during the last leg of his U.S. tour in hopes of attracting more studios to film in Seoul, reported Korean media outlet TV Report. Apparently, he succeeded in wooing Hollywood.

“Today I met with Jeffrey Chernov, producer of Star Trek 3, at the Paramount Pictures Studio and agreed to film a portion of the upcoming movie in Seoul,” Park said in his Facebook post.

Seoul has been gaining popularity as a prime filming location with its appearance in the upcoming film Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is expected to be released next year.

“The shooting of Avengers 2 was a great opportunity for local filmmakers and producers to learn about Hollywood’s filmmaking system on top of promoting Seoul at the same time,” the Seoul Metropolitan Government told the Korea Herald.

Written and directed by the Wachowski Brothers, the forthcoming sci-fi drama series Sense8 will also film around Cheonggyecheon, a stream that runs through downtown Seoul, later this year. Korean actress Bae Doo-na, who’s known for roles in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Cloud Atlas, is reported to star in the series.

In addition to meeting Hollywood producers, Mayor Park also visited the Los Angeles’ emergency operations center to survey the city’s disaster plans in hopes of improving Seoul’s emergency preparedness.

Featured photo courtesy of Cinema 10

Ki Hong Lee - Maze Runner

Ki Hong Lee Makes His Feature Debut With ‘The Maze Runner’


For Ki Hong Lee, it all started at camp. The Korean American actor first flexed his acting muscles while performing a skit at a church retreat.

“I just had so much fun with it,” says Lee. “I knew from that moment on, in the back of my mind, that I really wanted to give acting a shot.”

Lee, who was born in Korea and lived shortly in New Zealand before moving to Southern California (“That’s why I don’t have a New Zealand accent, unfortunately”), is a firm believer in doing what you love and never giving up. This mantra carried him through his first years of acting.

“I just went all in and started training and doing everything I could,” says Lee. “I did as much theater as I could, and I read every play that I could get my hands on.”

With the constant support of his parents, whom he calls his “biggest fans,” Lee gradually built his resume with a slew of small acting gigs, including playing a busboy in a Modern Family episode, a main character lead on ABC Family’s Nine Lives of Chloe King and various love-entangled roles in rom-com shorts by YouTube channel WongFu Productions. Already, the actor in his early 20s can count his stints of acting at camp retreats a thing of the past.

And when Lee found himself pitching tents and making s’mores over a campfire again, it was while bonding with castmates on the set for upcoming action thriller The Maze Runner.

The highly anticipated film, which hits theaters Sept. 19, marks Lee’s debut on the big screen. Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society, the film (based on the best-selling, eponymous book by James Dashner) centers around a group of boys who end up trapped in an open expanse called The Glade. Surrounded by high stonewalls, the space is enclosed by a dangerous maze that changes its pattern every night—it’s virtually impossible to escape.

“I play this character who is the head leader of the maze runners, the group of boys who are selected to run the maze and figure out a way out,” explains Lee of his character, Minho.

Screen Shot 2014-09-19 at 10.07.21 AMA scene from ‘The Maze Runner’

He is focused on one goal: to help his friends survive and find a way out. Lee definitely breathes life into Minho, not only taking on the character’s personality, but also committing to almost every physical feat described in the novel.

“It was definitely an artistic challenge and a physical challenge every day… but we were so passionate about the project, you know? We had stunt doubles, but we never used them, Dylan and I. When we were running in the maze, that’s us running,” says Lee, referring to his co-star, Dylan O’Brien. “When Dylan was tired, I tried to push him, and when I was tired, he’ll push me. We kept each other accountable.”

The camaraderie that developed between Lee and his co-stars happened overnight. “It was bromance from day one,” confesses Lee, who says that the natural chemistry helped to translate the story credibly from paper to screen. “These characters have been in this place called the Glade for three, four, five years, so in order to get that kind of fluidity between characters, you need to spend time with your co-stars. But thankfully it kind of happened organically, it wasn’t forced at all.”

Lee says it was especially gratifying, as an Asian American actor, to get to play such a strong role in a major feature film. “We have this Asian character who is one of the leaders,” he says. “I really liked that it was different from any other role that I’ve crossed.”

Notably, the character of Minho was based on author Dashner’s real-life relative of the same name.

“I thank God mostly for that guy,” says Lee, laughing. “Without him being involved in James Dashner’s life, this would not have happened. It’s crazy how some of these things work out, and I’m just thankful for this opportunity to bring this character to life.”

‘The Maze Runner’ premieres in theaters today. 

This article was published in the August/September 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the August/Sept. issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



SKorean Smartphone Film Festival Features Eclectic Entries


In a world of YouTube and viral videos, smartphone footage is found aplenty online. But among the masses, there are those who push the boundaries of what stories can be filmed with a smartphone camera, and when it’s done correctly, the results can be quite interesting.

South Korea’s fourth Olleh International Smartphone Film Festival announced this year’s eight winners earlier this week, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The awards went to short films that were created exclusively on mobile devices.

It’s a fitting contest for a country that has 80 percent of its population using smartphones. A jury of Korean filmmakers handed out the awards this year to a diverse group of films and contestants, ranging from elementary school students to a 73-year-old man representing 43 countries. Nearly 1,000 films were submitted, marking a 30 percent increase from last year’s submissions.

In the 10-minute category, Kim Tae-yung’s Artificial Intelligence and Sylvain Certain’s Cercle Vicieux took the $8,000 cash prize and smart device. Yoo Su-jin’s The Prayer and Sathapranavan Sathasivam’s God is Dead took the top honors for the one minute category.

Artificial Intelligence:

The Future of Tongue:

Four special prizes of $3,000 and a smart device were given to filmmakers from Korea. You can view the rest of the winning films at the festival’s website.


Linkin Park’s Joe Hahn To Make Directorial Debut with ‘Mall’

Joe Hahn has directed more than 30 music videos for Linkin Park, along with a number of other projects, so turning his skills over to film probably was a pretty natural transition.

The Linkin Park musician will be making his directorial film debut with Mall, based on Eric Bogosian’s 2001 novel. The story follows five dissatisfied suburbanites who find themselves in a shopping mall when a man begins firing at people. The incident not only radically changes his life, but also those of the others who are forced to deal with the life-threatening situation.

“It’s about the cycle of self-destruction,” Hahn explained to Mashable. “I find it refreshing to see this kind of point-of-view in contrast to today’s society that interacts digitally.

“The thing with life through devices, Internet and apps is that people are self-editing themselves. They are picking the best selfies and showing how cool they are, very one-sided. … When I read this script, it felt real and refreshing to show how ugly people can be, as they hide their inner beasts after cracking their facades.”

Mall will receive a North American theatrical release on Oct. 17, according to New Noise Magazine. The film will be distributed via Paragon Pictures. The movie stars Vincent D’Onofrio, Gina Gershon and Cameron Monaghan.

Hahn hosted an exclusive screening of the film, plus a question-and-answer session, during the 5th annual Nerd HQ event at Petco Park in San Diego. The video for the Q&A is below.

Image via Mashable


VIDEO: Full Trailer for ‘Dear White People,’ Co-starring Actress Naomi Ko


Dear White People has been garnering buzz ever since it sold out all of its screenings at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and with the release of the first full trailer, we can get a taste of what festival goers were raving about. Director Justin Simien’s satire, which is due in theaters on Oct. 17, follows four black students who attend Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white school.

KoreAm earlier wrote about Korean American actress Naomi Ko, who makes her film debut in Dear White People as Sungmi, an art major with a lip ring who lives at a traditionally black residence hall, and hangs out with mostly African American students. Though Ko’s role is small, the film’s contemporary exploration of the nuances of racial identity on a college campus will no doubt resonate with Asian American audiences—as it did for the actress.

Dear White People really hit home, in the sense of what it’s like to be a minority in such a white world,” Ko told KoreAm last winter. “You may have a particular theme where somebody wants to touch one of the African American character’s hair. I feel like it’s very easy to switch that out and say, ‘Oh, where are you from?’ It’s a question that I’m asked many times, even though I was born in Minnesota.”

The plot follows activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), as she is unexpectedly elected the head of the black residence hall. When the college announces plans to diversify the hall, Samantha takes to the airwaves, using the campus radio show she hosts, called “Dear White People,” to protest the decision. She delivers biting PSAs such as, “Dear white people, please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?” and “Dating a black person to piss off your parents is a form of racism.”

The drama comes to a head when the college’s influential humor magazine hosts its annual Halloween party with a very ill-conceived theme: “Unleash your inner Negro,” which throws napalm onto an already unstable campus environment.

The film also stars Tyler James Williams, Brandon P. Bell, Dennis Haysbert and Teyonah Parris.

Film still by Ashley Beireis Nguyen