Directed by Jon Maxwell
“Not all who wander are lost,” reads Chelsea’s brand new tattoo, inked in Seoul, but annotating a history that’s taken her from Minnesota to Colorado and now to a country that happens to be where she was born. AKA SEOUL is an adoption documentary like no other, focusing on Korean adoptees in their 20s and 30s. Theirs aren’t the usual stories of childhood struggles or tearful reunions. These are stories about people finding their ways into adulthood, their paths bringing them to Seoul for an adoptee conference, but also to alleyways and fabric shops, gay districts and cultural landmarks. They wander not because they are lost but because they are unmoored, intrepid, and in so many ways free.
Chelsea’s story intersects with four others. Peter is an artist who finds in the streets of Seoul missing pieces to add to the assemblage of his artistic identity. Meanwhile, Siri isn’t sure what piece a reunion with her birth mother might fill. Min explores Seoul for the first time as a man, and ruminates on ways in which gender and sexuality aren’t only tied to race, but also to notions of place. Lastly there’s Dan, who we last saw in director Jon Maxwell’s AKA Dan (SDAFF Spring Showcase ’14), back in Korea to introduce his adoptive and biological mothers, as well as to introduce new friends bonded by the adoptee’s unique anticipations of discovery.
With a spinning-wheel drinking game structure that would make Hong Sang-soo envious, AKA SEOUL is a spirited stroll down boulevards lined with trinkets and fabrics, flashing lights and rainbow triangles. Walking beneath a cosmopolitan skyline and cruising to a hip-hop beat, the adoptees find in Seoul not a home but a portal, like the subway stations they pop in and out of. Their slow-motion journeys through the cityscape allow them to experience a kind of coming-out, basking in new possibilities of self, untethered from normative expectations of cultural and national anchoring.
Between AKA Dan and AKA SEOUL, Maxwell completes a diptych of alternate identifications. It’s not surprising that tattoos and names play special parts in this latest documentary project, in which permanence breathes the same summer air as transitory yearnings, and folks who have always been singled out as unique find ways to blur blissfully into a crowd. –Brian Hu
Presented by: NBC Asian America
In production with: International Secret Agents (ISAtv)