by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
Sergio Kim’s character in Seoul Searching was originally written as a Korean Brazilian, but writer-director Benson Lee couldn’t find the right actor for the role. He opened his options to Spanish-speaking Koreans, and lo-and-behold, Lee discovered Seong Jin Esteban Ahn, an entertainer and musician with a sizable online fanbase among Spanish and Latin American audiences.
“A friend of mine told me about [Esteban],” Lee recalled in his interview with KoreAm. “I saw him [on YouTube] and I was like, oh my God, that’s Sergio.”
The character is 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 (Justin Chon) and the solemn Klaus (Teo Yoo)—to follow along on his adventures.
But Sergio soon realizes how his flirtatious antics can rub people the wrong way. The hard-nosed Sue-jin (played by Byul Kang), in particular, doesn’t take his comments too kindly, and she isn’t afraid to throw him across the room to put him in his place.
Ahn seemed to be the perfect fit for the role of Estaban, being the only “Latino Coreano” character in the entertainment industry. He grew up in Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands in Spain, then moved to Korea after high school and served in the Korean Marines. He began pursuing music as early as 16, and in 2009, he founded “SanchoBeatz,” the largest online Latin urban beats and instrumentalists store.
Since then, Ahn has adopted the name SanchoBeatz as an artist and producer (as well as the nickname “CoreanoLoco,” which means “crazy Korean,” due to his crazy and random YouTube videos). His music, which is influenced by a mixture of Latin, hip-hop and electro, has been sampled by various artists and played on Latin radio stations. These days, SanchoBeatz is expanding into the K-pop industry.
Seoul Searching marks Ahn’s first acting venture. After the film’s Sundance premiere, Ahn told KoreAm he plans to pursue further opportunities as an actor-musician and also shared how the movie spoke to his own identity.
This interview has been edited for length, grammar and clarity.
What was your first impression of Sergio?
I thought that it was just me when I was young. He was so similar to me. I was really excited and really wanted to play Sergio.
What aspects of the character stuck out to you the most?
I really liked that he is always trying to be happy. No worries, and he seems like he is always having fun, and he loves girls. He lives his life—he doesn’t think of yesterday or tomorrow; he just enjoys life. I love that.
What was it like working with Benson?
He taught me a lot about acting. He was a really nice director. He knows how to make what he wants, and he really knows how to bring my talent out. He was always challenging me, and I never felt that I would be able to act. He really helped me a lot.
How close was everyone in the cast?
Everybody was really close. They were great people. I had a lot of fun working with them. Most of the cast were already experienced actors, so I learned a lot of things from them about acting. Just watching them, how they act, how they work—I learned a lot about them. I had a lot of fun working with them, too.
Ahn with fellow actor, Teo Yoo:
What was the atmosphere like on set?
It was really great. Now, [the cast members] are really close friends of mine. We weren’t so close at first, because it’s kind of hard … so we would unite. The relationships, we are all really close to each other.
Were there any themes in Seoul Searching that you personally connected with?
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. That part touched me a lot and also, the relationships with the parents and growing up outside Korea.
Did your parents oppose your choice to pursue music?
My parents were not like that. I’m really blessed to have my parents. At the time, my father told me to go to university and get a job, but my parents always supported my dreams, and I’m very thankful for that.
How did they react to your role in Seoul Searching, especially when it was announced the movie was going to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival?
Yeah, it’s like one of the best things that happened to their lives, I think. They were so excited.
SanchoBeatz just released his latest mini-album, which you can check out for free at SoundCloud. The music video for his new single, “Millonario,” is below.