Taiwanese-American actress Jessika Van (MTV’s ‘Awkward’) stars in Korean romantic comedy ‘Seoul Searching’


 Audrey Magazine (by Arianna Caramat):

Based on a true story, Seoul Searching is a romantic comedy about a group of Korean high schoolers from around the globe who are sent to Seoul in 1986 to attend a special summer camp created by the Korean government, so that they can learn what it means to be Korean. But the experiment turns out to be a major culture clash, as these Western-born teens go wild in conservative 1980s Korea.

Directed by award-winning Korean American filmmaker Benson Lee, best known for his 2007 documentary Planet B-boy, Seoul Searching is based on Lee’s real life experience attending a summer camp in Korea as a teen. The film premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and stars Korean American actor Justin Chon, Korean-African American singer Crystal Kay, American Idol finalist Heejun Han, veteran Korean actor Cha In-pyo and Korean actor Teo Yoo.

Also starring in the film is Jessika Van, a Taiwanese American actress perhaps best known for playing fan-favorite Becca on MTV’s Awkward. We chat with Van about the film.


The cast of Seoul Searching.

Audrey Magazine: Tell us about your character, Grace Park.

Jessika Van: Grace Park is full-on ’80s! She wants to be Madonna, desperately. She comes from a small, boring town and feels restrained from growing up in the church. But when she comes out to Korea for summer camp, she feels it’s her one chance to really break out and be who she wants to be. And what she wants to be is in control, sexy, powerful and strong. But that summer camp is her journey of discovering what really is strength.

AM: The movie was filmed in Korea. What was that like?

JV: It was so crazy! I was nervous. Not every day do we get to travel to another country and experience it for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve never met people who were so kind and had so much heart. At the wrap party, Benson asked me to give a little speech. I started to speak, but tears were spilling from my eyes. The cast and crew, from the assistant directors to the camera crew to the hairdressers, everyone just gave me so much love every day. I was just overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to express my gratitude to them for being so welcoming to me.

AM: While filming, did you do some soul-searching yourself?

JV: As a woman — or even as an Asian woman — I’m always asking for people’s opinions or guidance. That’s just how I grew up. But because of my upbringing, I didn’t have as much faith in my own voice or my own opinion. But going through that summer of filming, with everything I did on my own in Korea and everything I accomplished on my own, I’m starting to have a little more faith in myself. Finally, I am finding that I am enough. I know what’s right, and I should listen to myself.

Photo by Daniel Nguyen
This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine’s Spring 2015 issue. Get your copy here

Take a look at upcoming indie feature: “Seoul Searching” 

SEOUL SEARCHING the Movie Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/SeoulSearchingMovie/photos/a.370102513069982.88457.369749663105267/733346936745536/?type=1&theater
Audrey Magazine:

Seoul Searching, set to release in 2015, is directed by Benson Lee and is an ’80s-set youth dramedy based loosely on Lee’s experience at a government summer camp in 1986.

The film is described as “16 years in the making” based on one of the craziest summers of Lee’s life. In it, “a diverse group of Korean teens meet at a special camp in Seoul where they were sent by their parents to learn what it means to be Korean — a side to them they know little about.

It is now in post-production, and snippets of the film were recently released on YouTube:

The preview has no dialogue but shows a little bit of the flavor to expect from the film: nostalgia, attitude and an explosion of emotions that can feel relatable and new all at once. With the description, that “although the intentions of the camp were honorable, the activities of the teens were not,” Seoul Searching will hopefully be playful in showing the carefree spirit of adolescence, while acknowledging the painful parts of growth under the lens of feeling one’s own culture as something that needs to be learned.




Variety, http://variety.com/2014/artisans/news/seoul-searching-global-independent-film-1201296272/


Seoul Searching is a modern low-budget indie film in English, and is a melting pot of actors of mixed ethnicities: Korean, Korean-American, British-Korean, Japanese, Spanish-Korean, German-Korean and Canadian-Korean. The film stars familiar faces from YouTube, such as Justin Chon, and known faces from the music industry, such as Jessika Van.

The film had also posted a calling for auditions in March of last year. Through Facebook, they held an online casting call where actors and non-actors uploaded audition clips via Youtube. The top candidates for each character were posted, and the community voted on their favorite actors to audition in person with Lee.

The film is shot in Korea, receiving a nod from the Korean Film Council for location exposure, and is produced by Los Angeles firms Bowery Hills Entertainment and Mondo Paradiso Films.

Find more information about Seoul Searching on the film’s Tumblr and Facebook page.


Maggie Q and Lucy Liu: Asian-Americans as Leading Ladies

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NY Times: The CW series “Nikita” begins its fourth and final season on Friday — an abbreviated run to tie up story lines, as the reluctant assassin Nikita stands falsely accused of killing the president — and while there’s still a chance, I’d like to celebrate a small but significant milestone. For six more weeks, two of the strongest and most interesting female leads on television are being played by Asian-American actresses.

I’m talking about Maggie Q, finishing her turn as Nikita, and Lucy Liu, in her second season as Joan Watson on CBS’s “Elementary,” where she is every bit as central as Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes. Both shows have their formulaic elements, but Nikita and Joan are noncartoonish, reasonably complex, multidimensional characters, and in prime time, there aren’t too many actresses getting that kind of opportunity in a lead role. Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife,” Connie Britton in “Nashville,” Claire Danes in “Homeland,” Lizzy Caplan in “Masters of Sex.” It’s a short list.

Of course, that broader look also indicates that the overall picture for Asian actresses (American, Canadian and otherwise) isn’t so happy. A lot of them are working, but in roles far down the food chain from Nikita and Watson, and often playing characters conceived or shaped to reflect longstanding stereotypes about Asians.

Even Maggie Q and Ms. Liu haven’t completely escaped those archetypes. Both are playing the latest iterations of durable characters traditionally inhabited by white performers, so it would seem that race shouldn’t have any particular bearing. But the truth is that they resonate with two of the most common sets of images — or clichés — about Asian women: the high-achieving, socially awkward Dr. Joan Watson is a refined example of the sexy nerd, and the lethal, sometimes icy Nikita, able to dispense violence while wearing tight, microscopic outfits, evokes a long line of dragon ladies and ninja killers.

(You could argue that the association exists only because Maggie Q was cast as Nikita, who is based on a French film character, but it’s a self-canceling argument: The men who created the show sought her out for the role.)

In both cases, though, the actresses and their writers have avoided or transcended easy stereotypes. A lot of effort has gone into humanizing Nikita, and making her a sisterly or even maternal figure for the younger assassin Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), and the emphasis on violent action has decreased over the show’s run. In “Elementary,” Watson has embraced her role as apprentice detective after suffering a catastrophic failure as a doctor, taking some of the shine off her super-competence. And unlike other characters in the same mold, she appears to have a normal, nonneurotic romantic life.

Clothes also tell a tale. Maggie Q fought some battles over her costumes in the early days of “Nikita,” and she has spent progressively more time in plain, covered-up (though still closefitting) workout-style ensembles and less in skimpy red dresses. Ms. Liu’s outfits, mostly chosen by the costume designer Rebecca Hofherr, have attracted a following of their own. The majority opinion seems to be that they reflect Watson’s quirky but confident style. To my eye, they have a clever awfulness, making Ms. Liu look good while signaling that perhaps she doesn’t spend as much time as she could in front of a mirror.

Either way, what Watson’s clothes don’t do is make her look ridiculous or hide Ms. Liu’s attractiveness. That’s the fate of some other Asian-American actresses in roles that play more obviously to geekiness or braininess, and are visually coded for easy comprehension. Liza Lapira wears fright clothes and dowdy haircuts as the sidekick Helen-Alice on “Super Fun Night” (ABC), something she already endured as the eccentric neighbor on “Don’t Trust the B — — in Apt. 23” last season. On “Awkward(MTV), Jessica Lu, as the rebellious daughter of strict Chinese parents, sports a hat with ears while Jessika Van, as her Asian rival, is dressed in starched outfits that make her look like an Amish schoolteacher. Both Ms. Lapira and Ms. Lu are accessorized with glasses — big black ones — something neither appears to wear in real life. Also occasionally donning glasses is Brenda Song as a video-game company executive in “Dads,” on Fox, though her most distinctive costume remains the sailor-girl outfit she wore in the pilot, part of an extended joke about the sexualization of Asian women that didn’t accomplish much besides sexualizing an Asian woman.

And there are other actresses playing less evolved versions of the Nikita-style action hero. Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May, the black-leather-jacketed pilot in “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (ABC), is a stoic enforcer with a dragon-lady vibe; Grace Park’s Kono Kalakaua on “Hawaii Five-0” (CBS) is equally lethal (she often does most of the kicking and punching) but favors bikinis and tight jeans. On “Once Upon a Time” (ABC), Jamie Chung plays the Disney version of a mythical Chinese swordswoman.

It takes some looking to find Asian actresses in roles that don’t easily fit into one of these two broad categories. There are a few jobs in a third category, the manipulative or overly protective Asian mother: Jodi Long on “Sullivan and Son” (TBS), Lauren Tom on “Supernatural” (CW). On the entertaining but paper-thin “Beauty and the Beast” (also on CW), Kristin Kreuk stars as a cop who just happens to be mixed race. There is, of course, a major Asian-Canadian female television star not mentioned yet: Sandra Oh, whose Dr. Cristina Yang is not the lead but is a major member of the ensemble on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” As with Nikita and Watson, Yang displays some typical Asian markers — she’s a hypercompetitive, socially awkward doctor — whose race is matter of fact because there’s so much more to know about her. Yang, along with Watson and Nikita, could be considered exceptions that prove a rule, but I think the real lesson here is probably that TV would be a better place for women of all races if Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) could just write all the shows.

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Maggie Q and Lucy Liu: Asian-Americans as Leading Ladies