Tag Archives: Seoul

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South Korea to Double the Number of Korean Restaurants Abroad

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

It’s about to get easier to eat Korean barbecue and bibimbap in your country.

The South Korean government announced Monday that it plans to double the number of Korean restaurants overseas in an effort to develop the country’s restaurant industry and globalize traditional Korean food, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it plans to boost the current number of Korean restaurants from 3,726 in some 40 countries to more than 7,000 in 50 countries by 2020.

By expanding the number of Korean restaurants, the ministry hopes to also increase overseas shipments of traditional Korean food and ingredients.

Seoul will also be putting in efforts to facilitate the training of foreign cooks and other restaurant personnel. Those without a South Korean passport are currently prohibited from receiving any culinary training in the country, as such training requires medical examination certificates. These certificates are only granted to individuals with permanent residence in South Korea.

According to Yonhap, the ministry will be working to revise the related laws to make it easier for foreign cooks to receive medical examination certificates.

Korean cuisine has been rising in popularity and status in the States. There has been a surge of Korean fusion restaurants in recent years, especially in New York and California. Last month, several Korean American chefs were nominated for the prestigious James Beard Awards, which is often referred to as the “Oscars of the food world.”

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KakaoTaxi Hits the Road in South Korea, Challenging Uber

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Daum Kakao on Tuesday launched its new cab-hailing app KakaoTaxi in South Korea to compete with Uber, which has recently been subjected to crackdowns by Korean authorities.

KakaoTalk is considered to be Korea’s most popular mobile messenger operator, boasting over 140 million users worldwide. The new taxi app is Daum Kakao’s first step towards transforming KakaoTalk from a SMS replacement to a lifestyle services platform, according to the company’s press release.

KakaoTaxi is reported to automatically set a pick up location and finds the nearest available cab based on distance and current traffic conditions. Once the request is approved, the app provides the passenger with the driver’s name, photo and vehicle description. Passengers can also send push notifications to their KakaoTalk friends that includes pick-up time, drop off location and estimated ride time. For further privacy protection, all chatroom exchanges are automatically deleted once the cab reaches its destination.

Earlier this month, South Korean authorities arrested the head of Uber Korea and 29 other company officials on suspicion of operating illegal taxi services.

Prior to the launch, Daum Kakao took careful steps to avoid the same mistakes as Uber by signing memorandums of understanding with organizations representing licensed taxi operators, including the Korean National Joint Conference of Taxi Association, the Seoul Taxi Association, the Federation of Korean Taxi Workers’ Union and the Korean Taxi Workers’ Union.

KakaoTaxi also signed an agreement with subway card maker Korea Smart Card Corp., which is 34 percent owned by the Seoul Metropolitan City Government. With this deal, passengers can pay for their cab rides with their T-money cards and the app can track the flow of commuters in Seoul—another advantage over Uber.

Fares can also be paid via online payment services KakaoPay or BankWalletKakao, according to a Q&A with Daum Kakao.

“KakaoTaxi was designed to make the taxi-riding experience as simple and easy as possible by eliminating the need to physically hail taxis or search for taxi service phone numbers,” John Jung, Head of KakaoTaxi TF said in a statement. “Daum Kakao will continue to improve the service so anyone that needs a taxi can use KakaoTaxi to get where they need to go quickly, conveniently and safely.”

KakaoTaxi is available for download at Google Play store, with an iOS version scheduled for release in April.

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Hackathon

Global Hackathon Seoul Looks to Showcase Local ‘Hacker Culture’

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

The South Korean technology industry is often dominated by its electronic giants, but the headlines are slowly starting to change. Seoul has increasingly become one of the most promising scenes for startups, thanks to government support, including cutback on regulation on tech-related industries to encourage innovation and Park Geun-hye’s pledge to invest $3.7 billion in startups over the next three years.

This summer, South Korea’s capital will also host Global Hackathon Seoul at the COEX (Convention and Exhibition Center) in Gangnam, Seoul—a region that has quickly become a bright spot for Korean startups. The Global Hackathon plans to bring together some 2,000 hackers, from local South Korean developers to their international counterparts.

But the hacking doesn’t refer to the keyboard-slapping nonsense we see in Hollywood movies. There is a much deeper culture to the “hacker mindset” that the Global Hackathon sees in Seoul champions.

“The ‘hacker’ mindset is the art of building or putting things together in order to create a change or facilitate positive disruption in the world,” explains Ted Kim, Chief Operating Officer of London Trust Media, Inc., which owns title sponsor Private Internet Access (PIA). “In general, the hacker ethos is that nothing is impossible—anything can be hacked, created and conquered.”

PIA features a personal virtual private network (VPN) service that protects users when they are online, has been a leading sponsor of other major hackathons including, UCLA’s popular LA Hacks in April.

“As the advent of the Internet did not take the loss of privacy into consideration as a consequence, our goal is to protect the privacy of a society that has forgotten its rights to it. We hope that many hackers at the hackathon will build products that will enhance end users’ privacy,” Kim added. “We believe that supporting the next generation of startups and hackers is a logical next step to further our goal.”

Opportunities abound for startups at these hackathons, where they can showcase their own technology from wearables, virtual reality, cloud services, big data hubs, online security and other innovative ideas, such as KPOP UNITED‘s crowdfunding-based concert ticketing platform. On the other end, there are plenty of businesses and investors looking to work with the brightest and best hackers.

“Hackathons provide a wonderful opportunity for developers and businesses (and their recruiters) alike to meet each other,” Kim said. “Hosting Asia’s premier hackathon in South Korea is monumental because South Korea has been pumping significant funds into its technology startup scene. I wouldn’t be too surprised if many quick hack projects built during the Hackathon end up receiving investment and becoming new South Korean companies.”

KJ Yoo, the executive director of Global Hackathon Seoul, said he hopes the event will convince even more Korean students and recent graduates to look at the burgeoning startup industry for opportunities, rather than relying solely on established companies.

“Seoul already has an incredible infrastructure (fastest Internet/mobile speed), highest smartphone penetration and tech savvy people,” Yoo said. “What we need is a cultural shift. Through Global Hackathon Seoul and other awesome hackathons, I don’t want to just show people but let them experience the hacker culture, and collaborate with really different thinkers of this world. We have an opportunity to import the mindset and innovative trends of the best hacks from around the world.”

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Disclosure: Private Internet Access (PIA) and KoreAm Journal are both owned by parent company London Trust Media, Inc.

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‘Avengers 2′ Director and Stars to Visit Seoul in April

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Brace yourself, Seoul. The Avengers are coming.

Alongside director Joss Whedon, a few members of the Avengers: Age of Ultron cast—Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo—will arrive in South Korea on April 16 to promote the blockbuster after its world premiere at the El Capitan Theatre in L.A, said the Walt Disney Company Korea.

The four men will be attending a press conference and an event for Avengers fans ahead of the South Korean theatrical release, which is slated for April 23.

For actors Downey and Evans, who portray Iron Man and Captain America, respectively, this will be their third trip to South Korea while it will be the first for Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk. Evans first visited South Korea when he was promoting Snowpiercer, a 2013 South Korean post-apocalyptic film.

Avengers 2 has been gaining traction in South Korea, as it was partly filmed in Seoul last year and features Korean actress Claudia Kim as a supporting character. The film takes place after the destruction of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. When Tony Stark attempts to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, his plan backfires and the Avengers must reunite to stop the villainous Ultron from eradicating humans.

You can watch the trailer below:

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Mark Lippert leaves hospital

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert Discharged From Seoul Hospital

by REERA YOO | @reeaboo
reera@iamkoream.com

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert was discharged from Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital on Tuesday after he was knifed by a radical nationalist, reports Yonhap News Agency.

“I feel pretty darn good,” Lippert said prior to leaving the hospital. “I want to express my profound gratitude to those Koreans and Americans alike who so bravely, gratefully and selflessly responded to the scene of the attack and the medical team that delivered a world-class treatment.”

Lippert denied commenting on the security tactics at the time of the attack, citing U.S. national concerns.

Kim Ki-jong, a 55-year-old leftist activist, slashed the U.S. envoy’s face and left arm at a breakfast forum in central Seoul last Thursday. Lippert suffered a deep gash across his right cheek and cuts on his arm. He underwent a two-hour surgery and received 80 stitches to close his face wound.

Kim was arrested at the scene and has been detained on multiple charges, including attempted murder. During questioning, Kim claimed that he attacked the U.S. ambassador to protest against the annual joint military drills between Seoul and Washington.

According to South Korean media, Kim had traveled to North Korea seven times between 1999 and 2007. He also attempted to erect an altar in Seoul to honor the memory of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2011.

Police raided Kim’s home last week and uncovered materials that indicated his pro-North Korean views, including a book written by Kim Jong-il titled, On the Art of Cinema. Authorities are still continuing their investigation to determine whether Kim has violated the National Security Law.

Lippert was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to South Korea in October. Since arriving in Seoul last fall, he has become a popular ambassador among the South Korean people, as he often posts updates on social media and regularly delivers speeches.

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Featured image via Agence France-Presse

Benson Lee

Benson Lee Goes ‘Seoul Searching’ With Latest Indie Feature

Pictured above: Benson Lee, writer and director of independent feature film Seoul Searching. (Photo by Mark Edward Harris)

story by JAMES S. KIM

In the summer of 1986, Benson Lee was a 16-year-old teenager living in a suburb outside Philadelphia who frequently clashed with his parents over his attention to schoolwork and level of communication. Lee’s parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in the 1960s, felt their son’s distance stemmed from his disconnectedness from his cultural heritage.

“The rift between my parents and me dealt a lot with the fact that I didn’t understand the culture where they came from, and they had a hard time accepting the culture that they were living in,” says the filmmaker, best known for his 2007 breakout documentary Planet B-Boy, in an interview with KoreAm in mid-January at The Culver Hotel in Los Angeles. “They felt that, if I went to Korea, I would come closer to understanding them, but more importantly, understand what it meant to be Korean.”

In the 1980s, the Korean summer camp was a common rite of passage for many foreign-born teens of Korean heritage. These programs sponsored by the South Korean government offered instruction in the Korean language and culture and were popular among parents, but also a draw for high schoolers eager to get away from home and meet others their age. Although a teenage Lee was reluctant to go in 1986, his parents sent him anyway. He was glad they did.

“I was pleasantly surprised because I was surrounded by so many beautiful girls and I got to meet some really cool guys that became my roommates,” Lee recalls. “It turned out to be the best summer of our lives.”

This profound experience, which Lee says was “pivotal” in allowing him to meet other Korean Americans like himself and become reacquainted with the motherland, would motivate him, years later, to make a film based upon that summer. The idea first came to mind 16 years ago, when Lee left the Sundance Film Festival buoyed by the success of his first feature film, the drama-thriller Miss Monday. But because this story was so personal to Lee, and the timing had to be right, the film—Lee’s “passion project,” as he puts it—sat waiting as he worked on other projects over the years. Now, Seoul Searching, a coming-of-age film that pays homage to the ‘80s teen flicks of John Hughes, has finally come to fruition. The dramedy premiered at Sundance in late January to a warm reception and is set to open the Center for Asian American Media Film Festival, known as CAAMFest, in San Francisco on March 12.

“I constantly meet people, even to this day, who, when they learn about the movie, mention that they had gone on this [same] program. I think it had an impact on my generation,” says the 45-year-old Lee. “I never told [my parents] that I partied my face off with these guys from around the world, and in the process we learned something really incredible about ourselves. But we didn’t really realize that right after the program. We grew into that understanding.”

CS-Seoul-FM15-FilmStill1The ensemble cast dressed in character. 

As Lee remembers it, his summer at the Korean camp offered plenty of opportunity to party, hang out and forge new relationships (in fact, the Korean government long ago stopped operating the program because of liability issues over unsupervised youth). It also gave him and his peers—some who came from Germany and Spain as well as the U.S.—the chance to discuss the issues they faced back home, including tough-love relationships with their fathers, or their split identity as teens straddling two different cultures.

“When I walked outside of my house, I was in America, but when I walked into my house, it was Korea,” Lee recalls of his youth. “That was very hard for me in a lot of ways because, sometimes, these two cultures can be quite polarized, and they are very different from each other. But when I went to Korea and realized that everybody else was going through the same thing, that helped me to understand it wasn’t just about my parents, it was about this duality I was living in.”

Seoul Searching features an ensemble cast of characters, including a punk-rebel based on Lee’s own 16-year-old self; a Madonna-worshipping vixen; a military school-attending bully; and a girl-crazy Korean Latino. Scored by the composer Woody Pak to an infectious ‘80s soundtrack featuring songs by OMD, The Clash and Spandau Ballet, the film is a tribute to the era, as it intersperses various storylines about young teenage love, father-son issues, domestic violence, adoption and being raised in a repressed household.

A few of the characters are based on people Lee actually met that summer in 1986, but the film isn’t really a personal memoir. Although Lee spoke with a number of his former campmates about how they perceived that summer, the film isn’t about documenting exactly what happened.

“I didn’t have to go to that degree. I would say, like half of it to 60 percent is true,” Lee says. “The other half is all about compacting these stories, developing these stories and making sure they work within the framework of the movie.”

Seoul Searching was shot over the course of seven weeks in the summer of 2014 in Chungyang, South Korea, where the crew managed to secure an empty school building as their offices and main set. Lee had assembled his own motley group of summer camp actors, and had the opportunity to play camp counselor to his cast.

“It really [felt] like family,” says Albert Kong, an L.A.-based actor who plays the military school bully. “The people on cast, they’re just all really funny guys and funny girls. Everyone was hustling, everyone knew what they were doing, what we were trying to make. Weather and cows aside, it was good.”

Just a few months beforehand, Lee, then living in Los Angeles, dropped nearly everything he owned, including his car, apartment and Blu-Ray entertainment system, to move to Seoul, carrying little else besides two suitcases, a bag with his laptop and camera, his phone and passport, to pour himself into the project. It was a risky move since Lee had no financing or investors, let alone a full cast, at the time. The end result, it would seem, was worth the sacrifice.

“This is probably the most personal project of mine so far,” Lee says, sipping coffee at The Culver as he spoke with KoreAm, the day after he wrapped up post-production on the film in Los Angeles. Reflecting on his camp experience as a teen, he adds, “We, at a very young age, realized that, wow, we’re never going to be really Korean, nor are we going to be really fully American. So being Korean American or Korean German or Korean Spanish is who we are. We have to embrace the best of both worlds and grapple with the worst of both.”

SAMSUNG CSCA film still shows the students arriving at the summer camp. 

Over the course of his 17-year filmmaking career, Lee has made a name for himself as a writer-director with a deep independent streak. Born in Toronto but raised outside Philadelphia, Lee was first drawn to filmmaking while attending college in New York and, later, Hawaii. He was the first Korean American to debut a feature film at Sundance, with 1998’s Miss Monday, set in London, where he once lived. The film earned a Special Jury Prize for lead actress Andrea Hart, in what was her acting debut.

Although it was a year after that in which Lee wrote Seoul Searching, the project took an extended hiatus as Lee pursued other works. In 2007, he came out with Planet B-Boy, a dazzling film about b-boy crews from all over the world trying to enter the world’s largest international b-boy competition, the

“Battle of the Year.” With just a three-person production crew, Lee followed these groups around in 2005, filming several competitions in Korea, Japan, France and the U.S. B-Boy wasn’t just about the moves and athletic prowess of these dancers; it explored b-boying’s roots in urban street culture and plunged into the individual stories of the dancers and the struggles they faced.

“Those themes really resonate with me, because I [enjoy] bringing disparate people together, how they connect, and how they realize they have much more in common than we imagined,” Lee says.

Planet B-Boy premiered as an official selection at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival before showing at other acclaimed festivals and on HBO. It won Best Documentary Feature and the Audience Award at the 2007 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.

Lee’s sole experience working with a major studio spun out of that effort, when Sony Pictures and Screen Gems produced a 3D Hollywood adaptation of Planet B-Boy called Battle of the Year, starring Chris Brown and Josh Holloway, with Lee again directing. However, unlike the award-winning work that inspired it, the 2013 film bombed at the box office, earning just $13.7 million at the box office against a $20 million production budget.

“I absolutely have way more creative freedom as an independent filmmaker,” Lee acknowledges. “My goal is to figure out how something personal to me can actually be viable for a larger audience, but at the same time maintain its message and authenticity, style and all these things that make for really good entertainment.”

It seems Lee has again found that sweet spot with Seoul Searching.

SAMSUNG CSCJustin Chon portrays Sid Park in Seoul Searching.

One of the director’s earliest challenges was building an ensemble cast to portray second-generation Korean Americans born or largely raised outside Korea, such were his summer campmates in 1986.

“In the States, and the rest of the world, there aren’t very many Asian actors outside of Asia to choose from,” Lee explains. So to discover new talent, the writer-director turned to Facebook to conduct an open casting call, providing bits of the script so aspiring actors could record their audition videos. The amount of talent that emerged from this effort, Lee says, was “mind boggling.”

“I was shocked by the amount of talent that was out there,” Lee says. Take first-time actress Rosalina Leigh, who plays biracial adoptee Kris Schultz, who arrives in Seoul hopeful to find and reconnect with her birth mother. During casting, the 18-year-old Leigh, an aspiring actress from Toronto, submitted her tape and later took the bus down to New York to audition a key reunion scene.

“She did that scene with her mom, when she’s talking to her, and she doesn’t understand what she’s saying. She blew us away,” Lee recalls. “She was as good in the audition, face to face, as when she read that script.”

The net result of Lee’s unconventional audition process was a cast as diverse in experience as it was in background, with first-time actors joining more experienced ones like Justin Chon and the veteran South Korean actor Cha In-pyo. It helped that many of the cast members could relate to their characters and their struggles over identity.

“I was so excited about the film because I felt that it was something that was close to me, who I am, the stuff I dealt with growing up,” says Chon (21 & Over, The Twlight Saga), who plays insubordinate American punk Sid Park, who frequently clashes with stern camp director Mr. Kim, played by Cha.

“Here we are, with our liberties and sort of being just a lot more open having grown up in these first world countries, expressing our feelings and all that sh-t, and having a completely different experience growing up than our parents did.”

In the film, Sid’s nemesis and eventual love interest is Grace Park, the Madonna-worshipping, hyper-sexual pastor’s daughter from New Jersey played by Jessika Van (MTV’s AwkwardPaper Lotus, The Gambler). “This is her first chance outside of home, outside of church, where she can really let loose and create her own personality,” Van says of her character. “But it was really important to show she’s not just a tough girl act, a one-dimensional [person].”

Kong says growing up in the predominantly Caucasian suburb of Valencia, Calif., helped with his portrayal of bully Mike Song. “I hope I’m the opposite of my character,” he says, with a laugh. “What I was able to draw from my character was that sense of not belonging, the sense of constantly having to prove yourself because there were no other Asians. This was back during a time when people didn’t even know what Korea was.”

SAMSUNG CSCActors Crystal Kay and Estaban Ahn in Seoul Searching.

The characters of Klaus Kim, an earnest kid raised in Germany who aspires to succeed as a business executive one day, and Sergio Kim, an irrepressibly fun-spirited Korean from Mexico, were particularly important roles to cast since both are based on Lee’s actual roommates from that summer. Lee previously knew Teo Yoo, a classically trained actor originally from Cologne, Germany, who now lives in South Korea. As for Sergio, Lee hit the jackpot with Esteban Ahn, a music producer and YouTube personality from the Canary Islands who goes by the moniker “Sanchobeatz.”

“Originally, Sergio was Brazilian,” Lee explains, “but we couldn’t find one Korean Brazilian actor who was right for the role, so we opened our options to Spanish-speaking Koreans. I discovered [Ahn] on YouTube. I saw him and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Sergio.’ He never acted before, but I convinced him that he could do it, and we rehearsed a bit, and he turned out to do a really great job.”

For the role of the camp director, a strict figure with a mysterious past, Lee needed a native Korean actor who spoke English well enough to portray both the authoritative and vulnerable sides to the teacher. Cha, a star in Korea, fit the bill perfectly. “His range is amazing,” Lee says, “and he actually became a very good friend of mine through this movie.”

SAMSUNG CSCFrom L to R: Justin Chon, Teo Yoo, Cha In-pyo

When Cha read the script, he recalled the issues his own Korean American friends faced at home while he was studying at Rutgers University about 25 years ago. “Looking at them not being able to communicate with their parents, I remember I felt compassion for my friends,” Cha tells KoreAm. As for working with such a diverse cast, he adds: “It’s always exciting to work with people from different backgrounds. When you are at the set to shoot the movie, there is no Korean style or American style. There is only one style, [the] director’s style. I think Benson did a good job to break the possible barrier from the cultural diversity.”

The amusing opening scene in Seoul Searching establishes who each of the characters are, a la the Brat Pack, as one by one, they file into the airport after their flights to Korea. It’s easy to judge the characters early on and label them as the “the American rebel,” “the temptress,” “the Latino womanizer” or “the uptight European,” but that’s how Lee sets it up before digging further into their identities.

“The moment you start watching the film, you see the Asian faces, and it’s like OK, you get it,” Lee says. “But the more you start following these characters as you get into their stories, the more you latch on to the characters’ personalities, and you realize these are themes not only relevant to the Asian community, they are relevant universally, especially the teen themes.”

But while the themes of rebellion, acceptance and teenage love are timeless, Lee points out the challenges of making an Asian American film. Luckily, timing was on his side, as the core funding for Seoul Searching was provided by investors in China.

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Byul Kang as Sue-jin Kim, with Sergio Kim (Esteban Ahn).

“Right now, things that deal with race relations or the war in the Middle East, or the post-war in the Middle East, are very timely,” Lee says. “For my film, I think it helped a lot that Korea’s pop culture scene really got more popular worldwide. Before that, Korea was relatively unknown to most people.”

Lee sees his latest work, despite its location and cast, as universal. “It’s very challenging to get Asian American films, or Asian movies in English, made because a lot of people in the film business find it to be a very small market,” he says. “But that’s probably the main reason I felt this movie was worth making because I feel it absolutely transcends just the Asian American theme of the movie, and it has a place for a much broader audience.”

Critics seem to agree: A HollywoodChicago.com reviewer wrote that of all the films at Sundance, “none were as radiant, or as one-of-a-kind” as Seoul Searching, praising its “polarizing sense of humor” and “sincere cause to explore identity in a world where America is no longer the melting pot.” A Hollywood Reporter reviewer wrote that Lee “infuses the characters with abundant attitude and verve.”

And at Sundance, Seoul Searching generated buzz. The film, which premiered on Jan. 30, received standing ovations at each of its three screenings, but Lee says he got the most kick out of people coming up to him and saying how much they related to a certain character. Most of them weren’t even Korean, let alone Asian.

“We live in a very diverse country, but quite often the studio system doesn’t really reflect that in the types of movies they show,” says Lee, in a follow-up, post-Sundance interview from Seoul, where he still resides as he pursues his next project. “When you go to Sundance, you really get a sense of what is going on in the here and now. You get to meet directors who are from all walks of life and backgrounds who are really trying to tell the stories that are important to them and, in some cases, the groups that these stories represent.”

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Lee says that it’s tough picking a favorite among his films. But what made Seoul Searching so meaningful, he says, was showing the world what a talented cast of Asian actors could do with a good story.

“They deserve to have more stories that allow them to avoid the stereotypes and clichés and get to be normal characters,” he says. “I feel a personal obligation as a filmmaker to be able to create these types of stories and really fight the good fight for the team.

“I think we went through a phase in the canon of Asian American films where we really dealt a lot with the struggle for identity and having to talk about that,” Lee adds. “But I feel we’ve passed that now, and the struggle now is to get our voice out there. Just telling a story, a great story.”

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All images courtesy of Seoul Searching.

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

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North Korea Applauds Knife Attack on U.S. Ambassador

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea has applauded the South Korean assailant’s knife attack on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert, calling it a “deserved punishment” for America’s joint military drills with Seoul.

Lippert, 42, received 80 stitches to close a 4-inch gash on his cheek and sustained some nerve damage in his left hand. After a successful surgery, the U.S. ambassador tweeted that he was in “great spirits” and promised to return to his duties as soon as possible.

The attack occurred Thursday at 7:40 a.m. KST during a breakfast forum at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul, where Lippert was scheduled to deliver a speech.

Lippert was starting to eat the first course of his breakfast when Kim Ki-jong, a 55-year-old political extremist, screamed, “South and North Korea should be reunified” before slashing the ambassador’s face and wrist with a 10-inch blade. Kim was immediately pinned to the ground and arrested by the police.

Witnesses described the incident to unfold too quickly for security to prevent the knife attack in time, according to Reuters.

North Korea’s state-run media, the Korean Central News Agency, later crowed that Kim delivered “knife slashes of justice.” The agency added that the attack reflected the South Korean people’s protests against the U.S. for raising tensions in the Korean Peninsula through joint military drills with Seoul, according to Yonhap.

The U.S. State Department condemned the violent attack, while South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the incident an “attack on the Korea-U.S. alliance” and phoned Lippert in the hospital, wishing him a speedy recovery.

The Associated Press noted that Kim is a well-known among police and activists as an anti-U.S. and Japan extremist. In 1985, Kim participated along with other hard-core protesters in slashing and burning the American flag on the embassy grounds. He was also sentenced to prison for three years in 2010 after throwing a piece of concrete at the Japanese ambassador to Seoul. In addition, he visited North Korea with a civic group eight times between 2006 and 2007, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

After his arrest on Thursday, Kim told police that he had attacked Lippert to protest the joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, claiming that it ruined efforts for reconciliation efforts between the two Koreas.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it was the first time a foreign ambassador to South Korea had been injured in a violent attack.

Since his appointment last October, Lippert has proved himself to be a popular ambassador during his stay in Seoul, as he often posts updates on social media and regularly delivers speeches. His wife gave birth in the capital city, and the couple gave their son a Korean middle name.

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Featured image via Yonhap/Reuters

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Tourists Flock to Hongdae’s Sheep Cafe for Lunar New Year

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Forget cat cafes and dog cafes. It’s the Year of the Sheep, after all. Why not enjoy a cup of coffee and the warm company of a fluffy sheep instead?

Established in 2011, Thanks Nature Cafe may seem like one of the many quaint coffee shops scattered around the Hongdae district of South Korea, but the cafe is actually a home to a pair of sheep. Patrons are allowed to interact with the sheep and are sometimes given hay to feed the animals.

942293_593749257311080_886122712_nSheep meets a puppy at the Thanks Nature Cafe.

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On slow days, the sheep are allowed to freely roam about the cafe. 

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Lee Kwang-ho, the owner of the cafe, said his business has experienced a spike in visitors due to the Lunar New Year celebrations. He claims that with so many South Koreans wanting to see sheep during the holiday, his cafe provided a convenient alternative to visiting a sheep ranch in the countryside.

But it’s not just locals flocking to the sheep cafe. Tourists from around the globe have been walking through Lee’s doors.

“I don’t know how this place was known to the world, but I had visitors from all over the world coming to see my sheep, from Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, even some countries I don’t know well,” said Lee.

15060_627394140613258_1079022977_nLee Kwang-ho with his sheep at the sheep ranch

Unlike most pet cafes, the sheep aren’t looking for adoptions as they are Lee’s full-time companions. Lee diligently takes care of the sheep by keeping their pen clean, bathing them and taking them out for walks for exercise.

Unfortunately, the fluffy hosts only reside at the cafe during the fall and winter months due to their thick coats. Once the weather starts getting humid, Lee sends the sheep back to the sheep ranch and brings back a new pair of woolies around September.

To learn more about Thanks Nature Cafe, visit its Facebook Page

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Photos via Thanks Nature Cafe’s Facebook Page. H/T Rocket News 24