Let’s pretend the character of Long Duk Dong in John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles got to be the hero of his own movie, but he was placed in a Breakfast Club–like summer camp in Seoul for international Korean youths to learn their home culture.
In writer-director Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching, a group of unruly Westernized kids clash with their stoic, rules-driven faculty at just such a place, rewriting — or rather correcting — history to include Asian Americans in the canon of 1980s teen comedies.
Justin Chon, best known from the Twilight franchise, plays Sid Park, a Sid Vicious–type bad boy with a good heart underneath it all. He leads the dormitory of boys, who embody every teen caricature ever presented in Better Off Dead, but with the twist that everyone is Korean. Sergio (Esteban Ahn), a Korean-Mexican, is the Rico Suave of the bunch, while Korean-German Klaus (Teo Yoo) is the straitlaced guy. On the girls’ side, Grace (Jessika Van) is the over-sexualized, Madonna-worshipping bad seed who’s really just a mixed-up teen looking for a deeper connection.
Every character gets to learn a lesson, and while the humor is nothing new, the situations are. A visit to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, for instance, is fraught with tension made all the stranger by the fact that it’s based on actual events — Lee attended this camp in 1986, which was quickly dismantled when it became clear that these global kids were too big a coed handful for their teachers.
Written and directed by Benson Lee
First Pond Entertainment
Opens June 17, AMC Empire 25
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 15, 2016