Tag Archives: music


L.A. Korean Festival to Stage K-pop Song and Dance Battle

The annual K-pop Singing and Dancing Battle is back! This year, contestants can enter for the chance to perform live at the 42nd Los Angeles Korean Festival on Oct. 2, 2015 at Seoul International Park in Koreatown.

The competition celebrates the impact of K-pop all over the world, and this is your chance to show your love for K-pop. Groups have the option of singing, dancing or both, and they will undergo a preliminary round before the final round takes place at the L.A. Korean Festival.


CompChoosing the winner at the 2014 competition. Photo courtesy of Korea Dailyl.

Preliminary Round: Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 6-9 p.m.
Location: Korean Cultural Center (5505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036)

Final Round: Friday, Oct. 2
Location: Seoul International Park in Koreatown, Los Angeles

Eligibility: The majority of group members should be “non-Korean or Korean with mixed racial background whose native language is not Korean, or a 2nd/3rd generation Korean American born and raised in the U.S., whose native language is not Korean.” All applicants under the age of 18 must have written permission from a parent or legal guardian.

You can register your team through EventBrite. You will receive a confirmation email from the event coordinators with a PDF application attached that includes a waiver form and additional details. All applications must be received by Monday, Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.

For more information, contact Korea Daily at koreadailyevent@gmail.com or call them at (213) 368 2518.


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Meet the Boys of EXP, NYC’s Own K-pop Boy Band


by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project—a non-Korean boy band named “EXP”spread across the Internet.

The project, “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), has been underway since October of last year, and with their official debut single under their belt, EXP is looking forward to their first mini-album in November.

But before that, IMMABB is shooting for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarter by June 7 to help fund the different aspects of the project: music production, the entire creative team and a documentary about the entire project (2017 release date). Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.

So, the big question: Who exactly are the boys of EXP? The NYC-based IMMABB team auditioned and cast Hunter, Frankie, David, Sime, Tarion and Koki.

KoreAm recently had a chance to exchange emails with the members. Take a look through our conversation below to get a better idea of who they are. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

EXP Names


Can you briefly introduce yourselves, and tell us where you’re from?


Sime: I am originally from Croatia. I was studying music theatre performance here in the States and subsequently decided to make NYC my home.

Tarion: I was born in Washington, D.C., but I grew up in Houston, Texas. (The Land of Queen Bey, I went to her high school!) I’ve been acting, singing and modeling since about the age of three and have been doing it professionally in NYC for about five years.

Koki: I’m a Hong Kong-born, Texas raised, half-Japanese kid living in NYC. I moved to NYC about a year ago, and that’s when I started to focus more on my performing arts career. Modeling, acting, singing and dancing all sort of fell into place as I made my way around the city, and being in a boy band is sort of the best combination of everything.

David: I was born here in Queens, New York City. I have been performing my entire life. I was a professional male model before IMMABB. One day, while I was at work (at Swarovski), I decided to be an actor and pursue more with music. I walked out and haven’t looked back.

(Editor’s note: EXP members Frankie and Hunter’s responses were unavailable for this question.) 

How is the group dynamic? 


Hunter: There are definitely six distinct personalities in the group, but it’s pretty similar to any family. We spend a lot of time together, and can get on each other’s nerves, but are all actual friends. For the most part, I eat. There’s probably more footage of me eating than actual performance footage.

Tarion: I like to think of us as the musical United Nations in the sense that we are all so different and derive from different backgrounds. So, we all throw ideas into the pot and create really multi-dimensional concepts that … represent [each of] our own individual pieces while still being one unit.

David: Having us in the room together is similar to babysitting six very rambunctious toddlers. There is a lot of gibberish, laughing and WHOLE bunch of singing.

Koki: We’re a bunch of weirdos. It works.

Before you became a part of EXP, what were your first reactions when you heard about the goal behind IMMABB? 


Hunter: I was really confused, as I think the other guys were also. Frankie and I were both in boybands before this, so I was kind of thinking “not this again.” It did take some time to come together and understand what we were doing. Also, I was told there would be food, so I was in.

Sime: I wasn’t really sure what to expect. All I knew was that Bora was an artist with a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve.

Frankie: I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into, but when I researched K-pop and discovered this whole other world, I knew I wanted to be part of this movement. I was so fascinated by Bora’s concept and the fact that she had such an amazing team of other talents behind her.

Tarion: Boy band was the LAST thing on my mind. In fact, if I remember correctly, I remember telling a friend that I would never be in one. But for some reason, when I saw the casting call, I was immediately drawn to it. I loved the idea of doing something fresh and new and creating a conversation about bridging cultural gaps.

Koki: I didn’t know if we were actually going to become a boy band, or if everything was just for the documentary. I was super confused. Being in a boy band is one of those things you grow up wanting to be a part of, but forget about later on. I never thought I’d actually get to be in one, but here we are!

David: I understood everything. We are documenting a “possible” boy band. We start out as just a thesis, and if things go accordingly, Bora would invest more time into us and develop the project. She pretty much explained her expectations [to us], but everything that has happened thus far has superseded everything any [of us] could have imagined.

Do you have any favorite K-pop artists?


Koki: My first favorite K-pop group was BTS, but I also love SHINEE (their new album is amazing!). Block B, Got 7, and EXO are the ones I listen to the most right now.

David: Ailee is one of my favorite K-pop artists, as well as BTS—especially Monster. He is such an epic artist!

Tarion: Some of my favorite K-pop groups are JJCC, Girl’s Generation, and Big Bang.

Sime: Although I wasn’t very familiar with K-pop before, in the past year I have grown to love it and appreciate everything about it! Music speaks a universal language. Good music, no matter the form, speaks to me—and as soon as I heard BTS’ beats, I was on board!

What was it like training for “LUV/WRONG,” from the learning the choreography to singing in Korean? 


Hunter: I can hands down say I’m the worst with the learning and singing in Korean. I’m getting better now, but I had a really tough time in the studio trying to get the chorus down. There was food there, so that helped. The dancing took time to come together. We spent a lot of time with our choreographer MJ [to make us] look like a group, and not six individual dancers.

Frankie: Learning Korean is very hard. I’m Portuguese and speak it fluently, as well as a little Spanish. Both are very different than Korean, and the group cracks up at me because at first everything I tried to say in Korean would come out sounding Spanish. Bora works with us individually on the Korean, so it’s like having a private coach.

Koki: I got lucky in terms of learning Korean. I grew up around Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers, so being able to learn the pronunciation was fairly easy. I need to learn to be more patient and help the rest of the boys though, haha.

David: When I auditioned for the band, I said, “Yes, I can dance.” Throughout the process, I have learned I am more of a freestyler, but MJ has been able to wrangle that in and I am growing more comfortable with [choreography]. Six-hour dance rehearsals back-to-back stretches your body and pushes you a bit mentally, but the finished product—us slaying the dance moves—is a proud moment.

Tarion: If you’ve ever seen the movie Rocky, that’s what our training [looks] like (only without a continuous catchy soundtrack playing throughout our montage). It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. We still have so much to learn and so much room to grow, but we continue to push ourselves every day to get better and better, in some way, shape or form.

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Recommended Reading


“Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project”

“Meet Team IMMABB: Bora Kim, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao”

“Bora Kim Profile: Columbia University School of the Arts”


All images via IMMABB

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Meet the Team Behind EXP: “I’m Making a Boy Band”

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Columbia University student Bora Kim riled up the K-pop world about a month ago when word of her MFA thesis project–a non-Korean boy group named “EXP”–spread across the web. Titled “I’m Making a Boy Band,” or IMMABB, Kim’s project has been underway since October of last year.

It’s hard to believe, but the minds behind IMMABB aren’t part of a huge talent agency in South Korea. Instead, the band’s producers primarily consist of three people: Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul; Karin Kuroda (School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 2013); and Samantha Shao (Maastricht University, Netherlands, 2013).

They each have their individual duties, from overseeing editorial content, social media, research, budgeting and marketing–all while looking forward to EXP’s first mini-album in November and finishing up the “I’m Making a Boy Band” documentary next year.

To help cover the costs of the mini-album, IMMABB is asking for $30,000 in funds from Kickstarter by June 7. Backers can expect plenty of incentives, from EXP T-shirts, signed copies of their mini-album, tote bag, tickets to a VIP screening of their documentary and even private karaoke sessions with the guys.

KoreAm caught up with the IMMABB team for a quick conversation regarding their initial reaction to the controversy surrounding EXP, as well as a glimpse into their future plans.


There must be a lot going on with the band’s training, documenting the project, producing the music and other responsibilities. How big is the team working on the project? 


IMMABB: It must be hard to believe because people keep asking us that question! But it is really just the three of us! Bora, Karin and Sam. [As] for the music, dance, video, photo, we bring in artists who really believe in the project and become collaborators. This is why we started the Kickstarter campaign. We want to give our collaborators what they deserve for their amazing work and hard efforts.


You’ve mentioned your surprise at the reactions and controversy in the media once the Internet heard about EXP. What were some of your immediate observations you had in how many of these outlets presented EXP?


IMMABB: When the controversy first occurred, there was a K-pop forum website that asked “Who’s more handsome? EXO or EXP?” After you answered that question, it asked “Why?” and it gave two options: “I like Asian men” OR “I like white/black men.”

This has been one of the most striking products of the controversy; to this day, we still contemplate what that dichotomy really does, in addition to having “white/black men” as one category. It isn’t clear if the person who posted the question was “Korean” or “Western” or both or neither. It doesn’t matter to us because it generated really interesting dialogues about K-pop and identity politics, amongst [K-pop] fans and our peers (who are also fans).

Though we knew the topic of sexualities would come up, I think we were also quite surprised (and saddened) at the amount of homophobia generated by commenters. Many of these hate comments are from actual K-pop fans (judging by their social media profiles), and it’s interesting because K-pop stars are often called “gay” or “too girly” or “weak” by people who are not familiar with K-pop. These comments imply to us that K-pop boys can do things while our boys cannot do those same things.

What are some of the different approaches in how you will be promoting EXP to Korean audiences?


IMMABB: We haven’t started promoting EXP to our Korean audience yet but the Korean audience who have seen our English content have given us great feedback! We are getting scouting offers from different Asian companies, including ones in Korea, so we think we’ll be in Korea soon.

Be sure to check out EXP’s first single on iTunes and visit IMMABB’s Kickstarter page for EXP’s upcoming mini-album.

Recommended Reading


“Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project”

“Bora Kim Profile: Columbia University School of the Arts”


All images courtesy of IMMABB

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5 Korean Indie Bands to Perform at 2015 Liverpool Sound City


by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Five Korean indie bands will be heading to England this weekend to perform at the Liverpool Sound City festival, according to Yonhap News Agency.

South Korea annually holds the rock showcase “Korean Stage in Liverpool” at the international music festival in order to introduce Korean indie bands to European audiences. A total of 11 bands have participated in the event since its launch in 2013.

This year, bands Jambinai, Dead Buttons, Thirdstone, PATiENTS and Monoban will headline the K-rock showcase on Sunday, May 24, the third and final day of the Liverpool Sound City festival, said the Korean Creative Content Agency (KCCA) and the Korean Cultural Center in Britain.

“The public attention on Korean indie rock bands is very high in Britain, the home of rock music,” Park Young-il, chief of the KCCA’s European office, told Yonhap. “We’ll make efforts to make the ‘Korean Stage’ a stable platform for local indie musicians wanting to advance into Europe.”

Here’s some background info on the five bands performing at Liverpool this year.


Founded in 2009, Jambinai is known for their unique sound, which blends traditional Korean music and modern rock. The band has previously performed at major music festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW) and Pentaport Rock Festival. Members Lee Il-woo, Shim Eun-young and Kim Bomi first met while studying traditional Korean music at Korea National University of the Arts.

Dead Buttons

Dead Buttons is a Seoul-based rock duo comprised of guitarist-vocalist Hong Ji-hyun and drummer-vocalist Lee Kang-hee. Originally, the band started out as a trio in 2012 and quickly made waves on the circuit, performing at the Japan-Korea Punk Festival less than two months after their debut. Lee and Hong parted ways with their bassist in the summer of 2013 and released their first EP as a duo the following year. After performing at 2014 Liverpool Sound City, the band signed a contract with a British record label, according to the KCCA.


Inspired by Jimmy Hendrix, Thirdstone is a psychedelic rock band comprised of guitarist-vocalist Park Sang-do, bassist Han Doo-soo and drummer Ahn Sung-ryong. The band’s third album Psychemoon was nominated for best rock album at the 2014 Korean Music Awards.


Self-described as a “hybrid punk” band, PATiENTS originally formed as a quartet in Seoul back in 2005. After the record label they were signed to closed in 2009, PATiENTS created their own label, Steel Face Records and continued to play a leading role in the creation of Korea’s underground punk scene. Over the past decade, the band has received critical and popular acclaim, climbing to the final round of the 2011 Hello Rookie, a competition created to highlight Korea’s best up-and-coming bands. This year will be PATiENTS’ second time performing at Liverpool Sound City.


Indie folk band Monoban is made up of singer-songwriter and guitarist Jang Dae-won (also known as DAY 1), cajon player Jifan and classical cellist George Durham. Despite debuting only one year ago, Monoban has performed on Korean national television, radio, and at the Jarasum and Paju folk festivals. The band released their first full-length album in March 2015.

For ticketing information, you can visit 2015 Liverpool Sound City’s official website or Facebook page.


Featured image via Monoban/Last FM


South Korean Bands Rock Out at SXSW

Pictured above: Korean glam rock band, Victim Mentality. (Photo courtesy of Victim Mentality)


Move over, K-pop. At this year’s South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival, held in March in Austin, Tex., several underground rock bands showed how South Korean music is more than just catchy K-pop tunes (though there was plenty of that, as well).

Meet the big-haired rock stars of glam metal group Victim Mentality: vocalist Krocodile, guitarist Kyung-ho Sohn, bassist Scorpion and drummer Tarantula. The group made its debut U.S. appearance at the festival’s

“Seoulsonic” showcase, as it prepares for the spring release of its debut album, “Heavy Metal is Back.”

“Our message is simple—live life to the fullest,” Sohn said in an email to KoreAm. “Our music is energetic and fun. It’s a bit over-the-top at times, too. But this is all done on purpose because we want to make people happy and help them enjoy their lives.”

Sohn and Krocodile, the original members of the group, met in 2005 and bonded over a shared love of heavy metal and British rock groups. They formed Victim Mentality four years later. A sub-genre of heavy metal, glam metal is also categorized as pop metal or hair metal, and is inspired by the exaggerated hairstyles and makeup donned by famous bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s such as Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake.

Sohn and Krocodile found the group’s bassist, Scorpion, in 2013 through an online metal community board. The trio played live performances all throughout South Korea. Yet a lack of live drums in their sets left something to be desired. Luckily, the opportunity to collaborate with Tarantula at a performance a year later led to the birth of a quartet, and Victim Mentality could finally take their sound to new heights.

“We wanted to make music that was sexier and had more flare, and glam metal seemed like a perfect match for that,” Sohn said. “What drew us to the genre was the style and charm of the acts. We wanted to dress up and have the same sex appeal and sleazy stage  show as those classic ‘80s glam metal acts, so we’ve mirrored our style after bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison.”

Victim Mentality’s songs feature soaring guitar riffs, escalating vocal melodies and instrumental breakdowns of epic proportions. They are known to appear on stage in leopard print outfits and heavy eyeliner, all the while brandishing bullwhips reminiscent of heavy metal’s heyday. At South by Southwest, they performed such singles titled “Don’t Spit on Me” and “I’m Not Your Friend.”

“When we play in Korea, people go crazy when they see us,” Sohn said“American fans may even go a bit crazier because they are much more familiar with metal, and of course, glam metal originated in the U.S.”

* * *

Cul-Music-AM15-2EE1EE mixes entrancing electronic elements with aspects of performance art. (Photo courtesy of Foundation Records)

South Korean duo EE also took the stage at this year’s South by Southwest, performing during the festival’s “K-Pop Night Out” showcase, though their musical style is not so easily defined.

Singer Lee Yun-joung (“lil E”) and producer/DJ Lee Hyun-joon (“big E”) are known to form an exhilarating presence onstage, fusing entrancing electronic elements with the ever-changing dynamics of performance art.

EE enhances its music by mixing sound with fashion, digital art and performance art. A handful of TVs set up on their stage during South by Southwest offered up graphic visuals, while the two musicians hid behind masks and glitter. As a “total art performance group,”

EE has carved its own niche in the South Korean underground music industry.

“I took a break from music to work as a stylist,” Yun-joung told KoreAm by email. “But when I stopped doing music, I felt like I had a fever. I thought making music again would be a good cure for this. Around that time, I met Big E. He listened to my story, and then next thing I knew, EE was happening!”

Inspired by their identical last names, the two Seoulites, and now husband-and-wife pair, collaborated and formed EE in 2008. “When we decided to call ourselves EE, the first words that came to mind were ‘easy’ and ‘enjoy,’”

Hyun-joon said, also by email. “Since then, other ‘E’ words have popped into my mind at different times to describe us, too.”

Cul-Music-AM15-2EE2(Photo courtesy of Foundation Records)

Yun-joung’s energetic, magnetic voice complements the natural lilt of Hyun-joon’s deep voice. Think the grittiness of M.I.A. meets the electronic elements of Purity Ring, made even more complex by deep hip-hop beats and bass lines. In other words, there’s no sound like it. Whatever it is, it’s been working for the duo, who, in 2011, became the first South Korean musical act to perform at Coachella.

Although Yun-joung admits they often bicker over housework or childcare, their differences dissolve when they go into the recording studio or onstage—it’s their happy place.

“[It’s] happy wandering and weird snazziness,” Yun-joung said of their sound. Hyun-joon simply—and aptly—calls it “eeism.”

EE’s first single, “Curiosity Kills,” debuted in 2008; their first full-length album, “Imperfect, I’mperfect,” was released a year later. 2013 saw the release of EE’s second album, “Unpdctvprdct,” and in 2014, they came out with their latest EP titled, “Weird People We R Da People.”

“We don’t know how our music will evolve in the future,” Yun-joung said. “We make it a point not to limit ourselves. And because of that, we don’t plan for the future at all. Instead, we’ll just keep doing whatever we want without worrying about styles [or] genres.”


This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



Columbia Grad Student Creates K-pop Boy Band ‘EXP’ for Thesis Project

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

When fans of K-pop boy group EXO recently heard about a non-Korean boy band debuting in Korea as “EXP,” they weren’t having it. Especially when they found out that this EXP group would be using the tagline “EXP Planet,” just one letter off from EXO’s “EXO Planet.”

The group was no joke. EXP’s Instagram claimed a week ago that the “first and only NYC-born K-pop band” would be dropping their new single, “LUV/WRONG,” on iTunes very soon. The boy band also announced that it would make its debut at the Columbia University MFA Thesis Show in NYC on April 26. Wait, what?

As it turns out, EXP is the product of a thesis project by a Columbia graduate student, Bora Kim, an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist from Seoul. Kim began the project, titled “I’m Making a Boy Band” (IMMABB), in October 2014 as an “ongoing collective experience, in-depth research, experimentation, filmmaking as well as business endeavor.”


The ideas had already been running through her mind since the success of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” back in 2012. Kim said she was interested in researching how K-pop had finally “made it” in the Western world.

“The Korean pop industry has always appropriated its concepts from the West, and also the West through Japan, until not, and the reverse was a shock for the Korean public,” Kim explains in an interview with Columbia University. “‘Idol Groups’ became national heroes and K-pop became part of a proud national identity. But there is a double standard at play here. … K-pop had been looked down upon until outsiders started to consume it and its related products as well.”

Kim found that K-pop exports were directly tied to an increase in profit for Korean IT products, such as mobile phones–in fact, she says the biggest beneficiaries of the Korean Wave are companies like Samsung and LG.

But why make a boy band?

“I was interested in K-pop and idol groups on this level initially as I was thinking about cultural flow, or the relationship of dominant culture and peripheral culture, and how that is interwoven with one’s identity or one’s national identity,” Kim says. “I wanted to see what would happen if I made American boys into K-pop performers, by teaching them how to sing in Korean and act like Korean boys, and complicate this flow/appropriation even more.”

“Complicating the flow” also meant exploring how masculinity is portrayed in boy groups.

“These boys are tailored to attract straight young females, originally,” Kim says. “but the presentation of their sexuality is very complicated. … For example, a young group of pretty boys with great skin start rapping in a hip-hop music video while wearing a lot of make-up. What does this mean? Who is the target audience? It is totally gender-bending and experimental, but, at the same time, it is very typical, mainstream K-pop.

“And the acceptance of this strangeness (in the eyes of Western audiences) started to happen when Korean economic prosperity reached a point where it was enough for the entertainment industry to produce high-quality pop culture products,” she adds. “Cultural barriers or mistranslation are overcome by the shiny framing/packaging of K-pop.”


Kim’s partners, Karin Kuroda and Samantha Shao, each brought their own expertise and perspectives to the project. Kuroda’s studies focused primarily on art criticism, photography, sculpture and fashion, while Shao studied arts administration and cultural theory at Maastricht University, Netherlands.

“The ‘I’m Making a Boy Band’ project aims to examine critical aspects of pop/business culture through the lens of an artist,” explains Kuroda, who first befriended Kim at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “By asking oneself what it means to assimilate or twist the rudimentary formula in K-pop ‘idol’ culture, this project highlights social issues on a global and personal level.”

Shao and Kim discussed the differences between Asian pop culture–particularly Taiwanese and Korean–with American pop culture, as well as the connection between popular culture and fine arts.

“By changing the working process (of making ‘art’), we intend to re-think and re-define what it means to communicate with the art world and its audience,” Shao says. “Since the main characters of this work are people–not only band members, but also collaborators–we try to challenge ourselves by giving up authorship from time to time.”

Shao adds that she believes IMMABB focuses more on communicating with the audience throughout the process rather than the outcome of the band. The project “welcomes interactions, encourages questions and provokes confrontations.”

You can read more of Bora Kim’s interview with the Columbia University School of the Arts here. You can also follow EXP’s exploits at their Instagram, exp_theband.


All images via Columbia University School of the Arts

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KCON 2015

KCON 2015 To Take Over Staples Center & L.A. Live

If you need any indication of the power of hallyu and Korean popular culture, look no further than how CJ E&M‘s KCON has grown since its launch in 2012.

KCON hosted over 42,000 attendees from around the world last summer at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, and this year, the convention is bringing its A game. From Friday, July 31 to Sunday, Aug. 2, fans can expect plenty of panels, workshops, food fashion and more at the L.A. LIVE plaza in Downtown L.A., punctuated by two concerts at the Staples Center on Saturday and Sunday.

Last year’s lineup included B1A4, BTS, CNBLUE, G-Dragon, Girl’s Generation, IU, Jung Joon Young, SPICA, TEEN TOP and VIXX. We’ll keep you updated on when this year’s artists are announced—KCON promises that the concerts will “Ignite Your Feelz.”

Check out KCON 2015 USA’s website for more information. You can watch a recap of last year’s KCON below.


Featured image courtesy of KCON

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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





Here are some exclusive interviews with the cast of Seoul Searching


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



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. 



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. 



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. 



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. 



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. 



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.”


Cha In-Pyo Headshot

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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