UPDATED (08.04.17) We have yet another inductee to the K.U.S.o.A.N.F.F. list. I pleased to present John Kwon aka Kwon Wootaak who directed “Always Be Boyz.” The film won the Special Jury Award at The San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival last month and is playing at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I am not 100% sure if he is actually 1.5 or 2nd generation Korean American, but according to his bio he “hails from Burbank” which means he grew up there. I will take it at face value. Welcome Kwon Kam-dokk!
Yes, it is time once again for an update on the pioneers of Korean
American Cinema. This list is a work in progress. Please help me update it if you have
additions. The rules are that the filmmaker must be of Korean descent,
be 1.5 or 2nd+ generation American and have made a feature narrative
Below are reasons for and against why if we ever had to
elect one of them to represent us at the United Nations, they should be
considered THE representative of the KUSoANFF’s.
(FYI this list is in alphabetical order)
1. Narhee Ahn “Purity“
She kicked ass getting her own DIY digital film Purity put together in
Delaware (which in and of itself, spending an extended period of time
in Delaware is a feat).
AGAINST: She’s from Delaware.
2. James Bai “Puzzlehead“
Film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival. Really impressive debut — a
film ten years in the making. And it was worth the wait.
No Asian characters. Also, despite inspiring me to put this list
together, he hates the whole idea of it.
Film premiered at Cannes. (I don’t think anyone else on the list has achieved that!)
AGAINST: The film is in the Kinyarwanda language (which though sounds like it may be Asian, is actually African)
4. Juwan Chung “Baby”
AGAINST: Despite being a hyper-violent gangster film, the film is not about Koreans.
5. Joy Dietrich “Tie A Yellow Ribbon“
Film revolves around a cross-section of young Asian American women
including the main character an adoptee which is a unique experience
not often seen in AA film.
AGAINST: She is an adoptee.
Sister team is cool. Two for the price of one. they also have an
extensive resume working in Hollywood as assistant editors, so they
have definitely paid their dues.
AGAINST: I never heard of the film. (Okay, this is an outdated statement. I actually know Sara now but I still haven’t seen the film).
Easily most commercially successful. He’s made some of the best music
videos in the business. And he has a really cool website.
AGAINST: Movie bombed. (Obviously, not enough shirtless Wil Yun Lee in the movie)
Film premiered at Sundance. Lots of accolades from the AA film fest
circuit as well as Humanitas Foundation, NYFA, Nat’l Endowment for the
Arts, Indie Spirit Awards, etc.
AGAINST: He’s running the survey and will probably cheat himself into the post by name-dropping too many awards.
9. So Yong Kim “In Between Days“
Also a Sundance darling. Very cool woman who sublet my apartment and
got her deposit returned in full because no damage was done to the
AGAINST: She is on the very border of the requirements
for this list. She came here during high school, so she is 1.5 but just
10. Sung H. Kim “Book of Rules“
of the major Asian American Film Festivals. Looks like a DIY project.
Also, he does have easily the most Korean name in the group. *EDIT*
Best Narrative Feature (Jury Award) San Diego Asian Film Festival 2003.
(courtesy of stealinghome)
AGAINST: This isn’t really fair
because I have no info on this guy at all. I never heard of the film.
And there’s no info about him online. Hmmm.
11. John Kwon aka Kwon Wootaak “Always Be Boyz“
AGAINST: I don’t have an against… Ivy League, Spiritual, Bi-Lingual, Poet? OH MY GOD! I think we found THE ONE. John Kwon is THE Korean United States of American Narrative Feature Filmmaker. Hopefully, he’s not a jerk.
12. Benson Lee “Miss Monday“
First feature by a Korean American to premiere at Sundance. The film
also got a Best Actress Award that year at the festival.
No Asian characters in the movie. Also, the film was shot in England,
so it may not technically be an American film. Also, he is now a
hotshot documentarian with his new film Planet B-Boy, so we can’t be
sure of where his alliances lie.
12. Chris Chan Lee “Yellow“
The daddy of Korean American film — him and Benson Lee’s “Miss Monday”
came out the same year, but this film directly deals with being Korean
American in L.A.
AGAINST: Mixed reactions to the film. Also
unsure of where his last name begins (Chan? Lee?) hence making
confusion for me in alphabetizing this list.
AGAINST: Like many on this list, his film does not feature any Asians.
14. Grace Lee “American Zombie“
First off she is a documentarian (see Benson Lee). In addition, she
might easily get lost with all the other Grace Lee’s out there.
AGAINST: Cast Asians in tiny roles in the film including John Cho adn Kelly Hu.
AGAINST: Since this film, John Lee aka Lee Jae-Han (이재한) has gone on to work exclusively in Korea.
17. Abraham Lim “Roads and Bridges“
Never saw the movie. And his name sounds Chinese so made me have to do
extra work figuring out whether he actually was Korean. (I thought only
the Chinese named their kids after US Presidents).
Some would argue that this is not a feature film, but rather a
collection of shorts. He’s also happa so he would need to find another
happa to help pick up the slack (see Mora Stephens)
19. Sunmin Park “Too Pure“
AGAINST: Can’t think of any…
20. Gene Rhee “Trouble With Romance“
AGAINST: Haven’t seen his feature, so I don’t know if size actually does matter.
He worked his way up through the ranks, from martial arts competitor to
actor to producer to writer to director, with an awareness of the
uphill battle he faced as an Asian American actor (in a genre where
only White dudes were allowed to be the heroes).
AGAINST: Despite the titles, not sure either film approaches even best of the… anything.
22. Mora Stephens “Conventioneers“
Together with Greg Pak, she could possibly be a good choice because
together they make one KUSoANFF. In terms of her film, she premiered
her film at the Tribeca Film Festival. Is also putting together her
next feature with Billy Bob Thornton and Yoonjin Kim.
AGAINST: Though the film is great. It had no Asian characters.
23. Samson Yi “Cats and Mice“
He shares the directing credit with a non-Korean. I also never heard of
this film… And he was an actor on “Gilmore Girls.”
These are other folks you should know about:
TOP TWO CANADIAN KOREAN FILMMAKERS
- Clifford Son “Helium” who shot this unfinished symphony a while ago but never released it.
- Wonsuk Chin “Too Tired To Die” who came to the U.S. in his 20’s.
- Another Korean ex-pat / Young Man Kang “Cupid’s Mistake”
- Jimmy Lee “Close Call” (courtesy of eileenhchoi) who cast his daughter Annie Lee in the lead role as a drug addled wild child that has lots of sex… uh, Electra complex?
- Gina Kim “Invisible Light” and “Never Forever” She also came here during her college years.
- Daisil Kim-Gibson “Sa-I-Gu” does documentaries (good ones at that).
- Christine Choy “Who Killed Vincent Chin” also does documentaries.
- And I’ll mention my friend Johanna Lee who has been in
pre-pre-production for her film “Jersey Seoul” but has not done any
principal photography yet.
- And on that note, I’ll have to include Grace Rowe who has been trying to get “American Seoul”
off the ground for a while. (Maybe they should think about not
using the word Seoul like Soul in the title. It might be a curse.)
- And I can’t leave out one of my best friends, Anna Kang who has been developing her project “The Lost Tribe of Long Island.”
- And I’ll include Steven Hahn who co-directed the documentary “Party” and with whom I got to party in Rotterdam. Nothing like a coffee shop in Rotterdam and then zoning out to Dancehall to earn your way onto an honorable mention list in my book.
OTHER MENTIONABLES, OTHER PROFESSIONS:
- Gina Kwon – Producer of The Motel and Me and You and Everyone We Know
- David Koh – Head of distribution at Palm Pictures.
- In-Ah Lee – Grace Lee’s producer.
- Keli Lee – Executive Vice President, Casting at ABC Television.
- Peter Kang – development executive at Fox Studios.
- Charlotte Koh – (formerly Fox Searchlight development) now at Future Films
- Roy Lee – the gatekeeper to all Hollywood remakes of Asian films.
- Christina Kim – writer on LOST
- Young Il Kim – winner of CAPE Award and who will probably be in the first list soon enough
- Sung Kang – actor and producer. A rare combo.