Korean-American Director Rediscovers Roots

      November 28, 2011 07:36

      Tammy Chu

      Tammy Chu was adopted by an American family at the age of nine and raised in rural New York state. She never saw another Korean until she went to college. "I remember what my birth parents looked like, but I forgot how to speak Korean and memories of Korean culture also disappeared from my mind," she recalls.

      Chu became a documentary film director and came back to Korea in 1998 for a project. "When I came to Seoul, it felt strange yet familiar and uncomfortable yet comfortable."

      She now lives in an apartment in Itaewon. She had shuttled back and forth from New York and Seoul for some 10 years and eventually decided to settle down here. Last year Chu, who can now understand a lot of Korean, won the top prize for a documentary at the Busan International Film Festival for her film "Resilience," which focused on Korean adoptees.

      Starting in August, she started producing a special documentary on Seoul for the Discovery Channel called "Smart City-Hip Seoul." The 50-minute program will be broadcast in 22 countries in Asia starting in March next year. Following a proposal by the Seoul city government, the Discovery Channel has aired three documentaries on Seoul since 2005 focusing on the restored Cheonggye Stream that runs across downtown and the stars of the Korean Wave.

      Chu says, "Rather than showing cityscapes like Gyeongbok Palace or Cheonggye Stream, I focused on the people living in the city."

      "Even until 2000, Seoul seemed like a tough place to live in," she says, but things have changed very fast. "A lot of parks and great restaurants popped up, while western and Korean culture mixed to create a very distinct atmosphere unique to Seoul." The film focuses on people leading these changes. "Of course we're seeing young people in Seoul and New York protesting or venting their anger over surging tuition fees and unemployment, but my work contains the bright side of young and talented people," she adds.

      She is aware of controversy over the amount of taxes spent to make the banks of the Han River more accessible to the public and look more beautiful. But as an outsider who is still learning about Korean culture, Chu says she is surprised by the beautiful night views of the Han River filled with many young people every night strolling along the riverside."At first, I wanted to focus on the Korean Wave, but I changed my mind a bit during production," she says. "I decided to focus on the people who are creating a dynamic culture in Seoul instead. But I didn't put too much emphasis on what Seoul city officials have done so far, since I felt that is already known."

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