For most of his career, Joe Kim’s been focusing on Asian-American films. But recently, he’s done some reflecting. As a Korean-American advocating Asian film, he’s never even been to Korea.
“Even though I am Korean, I don’t have a strong connection with Korea as far as understanding their films and culture. I have a passport and everything,” Kim said. “I just haven’t gotten there.”
Kim, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, curated a Korean film series to go along with the exhibition “Korean Art, Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910,” the first full-scale exhibition in America devoted to the art of the Joseon Dynasty.
The films run at 6 p.m. every Wednesday in April and are free for students. They also fall on the same night as the museum’s pay-what-you-wish deal, which starts at 5 p.m.
As the former director of the Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival, Kim has finally been able to branch out from Asian-American film and instead focus on films straight from Korea by Korean artists with this series.
“This was an opportunity for me to go back to my roots and go back to the history of Korea,” Kim said. “If anything, it’s been great for me and given me the opportunity to reconnect. But I still definitely want to go [to Korea].”
Kim selected each of the six films in the series as part of a larger hope to give a preview of Korean culture to Philadelphians. The films are a mix of contemporary hits in Korea today, some documentaries that display typical Korean life and a few classics.
The goal in uniting the exhibition with the film series is a way to reach out to a variety of audiences. Kim said he believes this is especially true for people who think they cannot benefit from going to a museum.
“Traditionally, people who go to a museum are generally art lovers, or you could say a little older, but the exhibition is for everybody,” Kim said. “This is for kids, families, whoever.”
Kim graduated from Temple’s film and media arts program in 2001 and soon after found himself in New York City. He worked on film projects during that time and eventually had to put his film career on the backburner until the Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival began in 2004.
After he saw a similar festival in California, Kim said he thought Philadelphia needed something like that – not that he wanted to do it himself.
“I never intended to do a film festival, but Asian-American representation in the media is pretty lacking,” Kim said. “If you look at the few Asian-Americans you do see on the screen, they fulfill stereotypical roles and aren’t fully fleshed out human beings like myself and other people I know. The whole idea with the film festival was to show people the real stories of Asian Americans, made by Asian Americans.”
Kim has left the festival, but it will run for the seventh year in November. For now, the series and other projects like it keep him busy. The series hosts many events in the museum after the screenings, such as an ‘80s night, where audience members are encouraged to wear their best ‘80s gear to the showing of the Korean version of the films “Stand By Me” and “Sunny” on April 9.
Kim also hopes a younger crowd will attend “Planet B-Boy,” which focuses its story on breakdancing and why Korea has become the epicenter of this culture. After the film, there will be a breakdancing session, where audience members can get engaged in what the film is all about.
“There aren’t many Asian exhibitions and typically when they’re done at any museum, the focus is on Chinese and Japanese art and culture, as they are the most generally well known in the U.S.,” Kim said. “So this is a unique opportunity to have Korean culture on display, especially in Philadelphia.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at email@example.com.