Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
This scene should be instantly familiar to any fan of John Hughes’ 80s teen movies: a group of teens that look as if they could have been ripped from The Breakfast Club– there’s a punk, a princess, and a nerd– strut out of an airport with the bravado of Ferris Bueller lip-synching to the Beatles on a parade float. Unlike Hughes’ films, though, this scene, from the 2015 film Seoul Searching, takes place not in ritzy Chicago suburbs but in Seoul, South Korea.
On April 15th, HAN and the Intercultural Center hosted a screening of Seoul Searching followed by a Q&A with director Benson Lee. The screening was part of Asian Heritage Month.
Lee started off the event by discussing his inspiration for the film. The film centers around a group of second-generation Koreans who, in the summer of 1986, are sent to a government-sponsored summer camp in Seoul to reconnect with their heritage. Lee himself attended a similar camp as a teenager, an experience he drew from while making this movie. Around the same time, Lee was also enamored with John Hughes’ movies, his stylistic influence for Seoul Searching. “[Hughes] really respected young people… and what he did masterfully was show that everyone was struggling…” Lee said.
The characters in Seoul Searching have a wide range of relationships with their Korean identities: among the teens at the camp is an adoptee who seeks to reconnect with her birth mother, a German-Korean who just wants his parents to speak German, and a rebellious Californian who doesn’t speak Korean. To spur further conversation on identity, HAN screened a short documentary before the film which discussed some of the same issues.
“I definitely feel disconnected [from Korean culture],” Chris Youn ‘20 said. Youn was born in South Korea but grew up in California.
For Phyllis Lee ‘17, coming to Swarthmore from her mostly white Louisiana community helped her understand her cultural identity. She credits this transformation to the Korean-American mentorship community on campus.
“I think after spending more time with Korean people I’ve been able to connect with my parents on a deeper level,” Lee said.
At the end of The Breakfast Club, the students discover that they are more alike than they are different. The conclusion of Seoul Searching is similar, except that the teens find what brings them together is not just the friendships and shared memories that they’ve made at the camp, but also their similar struggles to understand their cultural backgrounds.
The characters come to a conclusion that is perhaps best described by Youn: “Being Korean, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m different from many people, but I’m alright with that.”
Featured image courtesy of IMDB.