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PARK CITY — Seoul Searching is a coming-of-age film about a group of overseas-born high school kids of Korean descent who go to Seoul for a summer of cultural immersion. But the kids also set out on plenty of crazy adventures while on their vacation.
The film, which premiered at Sundance, garnered strong reviews for its John Hughes-style teen story and charismatic cast.
Director Benson Lee and the cast — which includes Justin Chon, Jessika Van, Cha In-Pyo and Kang Byul — stopped by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Sundance lounge, where Lee revealed that he had spoken with an American academic familiar with North Korea regarding a scene that was set on the border between North and South Korea, so as to not offend the North.
“It’s sensitive topic, as we all know,” Lee told THR. “And for me it’s important that we do things correctly. Authenticity is very important for me in the movie, because it’s based on a true story. We just wanted to make sure we’re not offending people but at the same time without sacrificing the story.”
In the film, the kids take a field trip to the Joint Security Area, otherwise known as Truce Village. One of the characters sets off an international incident when spitting gum on the North Korean side of the border. South Korean and North Korean officers draw their weapons on one another, but ultimately, American forces diffuse the situation.
Lee, whose previous films include doc Planet B-Boy and its Hollywood adaptation, Battle of the Year, said there were certain things that he was advised not to bring up in order to avoid offending North Korea.
“You don’t want to get too political,” he said. ‘This is not a political movie — this is about teens having the best summer of their lives. I just wanted to make sure I’m not stepping on any toes. That’s not the type of publicity we want.”
Of course, Seoul Searching is debuting at the fest on the heels of the Sony hack attack over the release of The Interview, which followed two journalists tasked with killing the leader of North Korea.
Lee and most of the cast had chosen not to see The Interview.
“I thought it was quite a debacle,” said Lee. “Those kinds of subject matter — they affect us because we’re Asian and we’re conscious of the way we’re portrayed onscreen, especially as actors and a director.”
“One of our goals for the movie was to provide characters who are normal characters, not caricatures or stereotypes, which we quite often see in the movies when it comes to Asian characters,” he added.
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