Shortly after premiering at this year’s Sundance Film festival, I sat down with writer-director Benson Lee to talk about his comedy, Seoul Searching. As you’ll hear him say in the interview, the film was inspired by his love of John Hughes’ teen comedies. Like many of Hughes’ films, Lee’s film is set in the ’80s, but instead of an American high school, Seoul Searching is about a group of foreign-born Korean teenagers that travel to Korea in an effort to learn about their heritage. The film is based on Lee’s own experiences as a teenager with the Government-sponsored program.
While the film has a lot of characters, it mainly focuses on three boys, from Germany, Mexico and the U.S., and the three girls that they get close to. As you might expect from a film set in the ’80s, some of the characters are influenced by Madonna and the punk rock scene. While the entire cast was solid, I was very impressed by Esteban Ahn’s work in the film. He plays the Mexican student Sergio, who is obsessed with women. Almost every scene featuring Ahn had me laughing. The film also stars Justin Chon, Jessika Van, In-pyo Cha, Teo Yoo, Byul Kang and Rosalina Leigh.
During the interview Lee talked about coming back to Sundance, how the characters were based on real life people that he’s still friends with, how John Hughes took the teen comedy to a new level and how much Seoul Searching was inspired by Hughes’ work, the challenge of getting the film financed, how he grew up with the script and that it changed a lot over the years in development, the authenticity of the performances, how he landed some of his cast, and so much more.
As usual, I’ve time indexed the interview to provide an overview of the conversation which is below the video.
Benson Lee Time Index:
- :20 – What’s it like to come back for the first time in almost 20 years with a personal story? Talk about his teenage experience of being sent to a culture camp and meeting kids from all over the world inspired the film.
- 1:52 – How much were the characters based on real life people? Says much of it is inspired by people he met, but some characters fit more into the fictional part of it.
- 2:47 – Says he’s still friends with some of the people from that program.
- 3:01 – Talk about how it wasn’t as easy to stay in contact before the internet.
- 3:58 – Talk about how John Hughes took the teen comedy to a new level and how much Seoul Searching was inspired by Hughes’ work.
- 5:20 – Says the one thing he did not like about Hughes’ movies was the depiction of asian characters.
- 5:50 – How difficult was it to get the film financed? Says it took him 16 years because people didn’t understand it.
- 7:03 – Talk about how he grew up with the script and that it changed a lot over those 16 years.
- 7:43 – How long was his first cut compared to the final version of the film?
- 8:27 – Talk about what he learned from test screening and “friends and family” screenings. Says he learned a lot and they were very important to the final cut.
- 9:41 – Does he want to do an extended cut? Says once you’ve done it you can’t really go back.
- 10: 21 – Talk about the process of securing financing for the film and the unique challenge of doing business in the Asian market.
- 11:40 – Was there anything he wanted to do, but couldn’t because of budget?
- 12:29 – Talk about how budgets are tighter and films are more affordable these days.
- 13:46 – On the challenge of putting together such a large international ensemble cast.
- 15:15 – Talk about the authenticity of the performances.
- 15:46 – What is the status of the release and distribution plans, particularly in China given the film’s Chinese financing?