Seoul Searching should be intelligent and thought provoking, as it tackles cultural identity and immigrants’ kids’ experiences. Unfortunately, in execution and tone, it is a sloppy and lazy John Hughes spoof that treads into Porky’s and Animal House.

Set in 1986, the film opens with a documentary style montage telling us that the South Korean government hosted a cultural exchange program, inviting expatriates’ kids to Korea to learn about their heritage. The movie then jumps into the story, and that’s where things falter.

The story has three story arcs: Sid (Justin Chon, of Twilight), from California, dresses like Sid Vicious and pines for Grace (Vancouver’s Jessika Van), who dresses like Madonna; Sergio (Esteban Ahn), from Mexico, who’s desperate to have sex and well-groomed Klaus from Germany (Teo Yoo), who helps Kris (Rosalina Leigh), adopted by a white-American couple, find her biological Korean mother.

The movie’s perfectly set up to be an homage to John Hughes teen movie—think Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club—with which it shares a hard-ass educator (Pyo Cha in a good performance). But Seoul Searching lacks the sophistication of John Hughes because of the dull, one-dimensional writing.

The first 20 minutes of the movie are the weakest. The kids arrive at the airport where Korean teachers and officials await them. And insultingly, as each girl walks through the gates, the camera needlessly focuses on her derriere, conveniently dressed in tight-fitting clothes. This lowers the movie from a John Hughes-esque teen comedy to Porky’s. (Although Hughes did write about sex-addicted teens—Weird Science anybody?— he was more sophisticated in execution.) And because the movie’s story is episodic, when the kids talk about the hardships of their joint Korean and Western identities, there’s no reason to care.

Is Seoul Searching essential festival viewing?

The Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival usually has a good selection of movies. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Spend your time and money watching a movie that is worthy of your attention. Seoul Searching isn’t that movie.

Seoul Searching screening times

Seoul Searching trailer