Teens of Korean ancestry from around the world travel to a summer camp in Seoul to learn about their heritage in Seoul Searching. In the 1980s, the Korean government started a summer camp for foreign-born Koreans to learn about their heritage. A number of kids arrive for the 1986 camp, including the punk rocker Sid (Justin Chon), Madonna-loving Grace (Jessika Van), German-born Klaus (Teo Yoo), Mexican lothario Sergio (Esteban Ahn), and Kris (Rosalina Leigh), an adoptee curious about her birth parents. Throughout the course of the summer, these kids learn more about themselves and each other.
Seoul Searching is a comedy based on the real-life experiences of director Benson Lee. The film is going for a similar vibe to the films of John Hughes, particularly The Breakfast Club. This includes the fact that each character is representative of a different archetype, such as Sid being the rebellious punk rock fan and Sergio being the Spanish-accented womanizer. In addition, the soundtrack is full to the brim with many 1980s pop hits, including a scene of Grace singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.”
The biggest problem with Seoul Searching is that it is trying too hard to be a homage to the films of John Hughes and 1980s culture in general. While the film does make an effort to move away from the Asian stereotypes present in Hughes’ films, it does feature stereotypes of other cultures, most offensively a trio of hip-hop lovers, complete with Run-DMC get-up. Seoul Searching actually fares better during the more dramatic moments, such as Sid’s one-on-one with his teacher Mr. Kim (In-Pyo Cha) and Kris teaming with Klaus to find her birth parents. Altogether, Seoul Searching would be better if it focused on being its own thing, rather than a homage, but it still has its moments.