When we hear the term “Korean American movie,” we may automatically think of some of Bong Joon Ho‘s famous co-productions with international companies and actors, such as Okja and Snowpiercer. This might be because Korean representation in Hollywood is so scarce. For years, Hollywood has rarely given Asian actors lead roles in films. Not to mention the many times when a script did call for an Asian actor, but instead, the character was whitewashed, as was seen in Aloha and Ghost in the Shell. This is why it is important when Asian American films are made, especially when made well, to support them.
May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. What better way to both celebrate and educate than watch stories about Asian Americans made by Asian Americans?
Here are 10 Korean American movies to watch this AAPI Heritage month…
Columbus is the feature directorial debut of Kogonada who is best known for his video essays. He wrote, directed, and edited this drama about a Korean man, Jin (Harold & Kumar and Star Trek‘s John Cho), who moves to Colombus, Indiana, to take care of his ill father. During this time, he develops a relationship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), who takes care of her mother.
The semi-autobiographical drama Minari by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung has been making history this awards season. Youn Yuh Jung became the first Korean actress to win an Oscar for her role in the film. Set in the 1980s, Jacob (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun) moves himself and his family to Arkansas to start a farm.
The black-and-white film Gook is about Korean American brothers, Eli and Daniel, who become friends with an 11-year-old African American girl, Kamilla, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Justin Chon (Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior and Twilight), who stars as Eli, wrote and directed the film.
4. Seoul Searching
Justin Chon also stars in Seoul Searching, which is directed and written by Benson Lee. Set in the summer of 1986, foreign-born Korean adolescents attend a South Korean government camp and explore their heritage.
Straight-Up is an independent romantic-comedy-drama produced, directed, and written by James Sweeney. Sweeney also stars as Todd, a biracial Korean American in his 20s. The film explores topics of sexuality, love, and romance as Todd struggles with his identity. Fresh Off the Boat and WandaVision‘s Randall Park cameos as Todd’s dad.
Twinsters is a documentary about Korean-born identical twins separated at birth. A French student in the United Kingdom, Anaïs Bordier, recognizes the physical similarity between her and actress Samantha Futerman. After realizing they have even more in common, she contacts her through social media, and they attempt to confirm that they are indeed twins.
7. Spa Night
The drama film Spa Night focuses on closeted gay teenager David (Joe Seo), living in Koreatown, Los Angeles, who must come to terms with his sexuality. The film is especially personal to writer-director Andrew Ahn as he is a gay Korean American man like the main character.
8. Coming Home Again
Coming Home Again is based on a 1995 New Yorker personal essay written by Korean American novelist Chang Rae Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Wayne Wang. Justin Chon stars as Changrae, who learns how to cook traditional Korean recipes from his mother, who has cancer.
9. Never Forever
Written and directed by Gina Kim, Never Forever is a drama about an American woman Sophie Lee (Vera Farmiga), and her Korean American husband, Andrew (David Lee McInnis). When she struggles to get pregnant, she develops a relationship with undocumented Korean immigrant Jihah.
10. West 32nd
West 32nd is a mobster film in English and Korean. Directed by Michael Kang, the film focuses on the young lawyer John Kim (John Cho), who accepts a pro-bono case concerning a teenage boy accused of murdering a mobster.