Lab Note #7


Among my adoptee friends and community, the film Return to Seoul has been a big topic of conversation. I noted in another Lab Note that this film seemed similar to The Return (released in 2018). In the 2018 film, which I viewed as part of the Seattle International Film Festival that year, Danish Korean adoptee director Malene Choi tells the story of two Danish Korean adoptees and their birth family searches. I was able to interview one of the leads, Karoline Sofie Lee who is a Danish Korean adoptee, for the International Examiner. The interview is available here. I’m hoping to see Return to Seoul this spring and it will be interesting to compare the two beyond the similar titles.

Another film making the rounds is Broker, a Korean film that centers on two men working as brokers – child traffickers – to sell a baby. Jae-Ha Kim’s article on Mashable includes interviews with Korean adoptees about what these films “get right” and “get wrong” about adoption. Two scholars I admire, Tobias Hübinette and Hosu Kim, are included in Jae-Ha Kim’s article and I am glad they shared their thoughts about these films.

I haven’t seen either yet. Both of these films are by non-Korean adoptee filmmakers. I’ve seen a fair number of Korean adoptee-directed and produced films over the years and most have been documentaries. The Return by Malene Choi is one of the few Korean adoptee-centric fictional films by a Korean adoptee. Broker is directed by a Japanese filmmaker and Return to Seoul is helmed by a Cambodian director. Just from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t have high hopes for Broker. The trailer uses phrases about “chosen families” and appears to suggest a redemptive arc for the three lead characters – but I’ll have to see if that’s a bait and switch. Watching the trailer, I’m struck by the choices of baby boxes, young birth mothers, orphanages, etc.

I’m also interested to see how The Return maps onto Return to Seoul and what an insider perspective provides to the tone and characterizations. From what I’ve seen from the trailer of the newest film, both feature a female European Korean adoptee protagonist who goes to Korean without any particular plan, both have scenes of talking with adoption agency caseworkers to find information, and both portray the messiness of search and reunion.

For those of you who have seen these films, I would love to get your thoughts.

A screenshot of stills from two films about Korean adoption. The left is a woman wearing a dark leather jacket walking across a street at night. The right photo has two men walking up a stairway. The man on the left is holding a baby.
Photo Credit: Composite: Mashable / New York Film Festival / Sony Pictures Classics / Toronto Film Festival / NEON


I wanted to thank everyone who expressed interest in the Transracial Adoptee Consciousness Model focus groups I am conducting with Dr. Susan Branco and Grace Newton, MSW. We had almost 180 people sign up for consideration. Because the interest was so high, we are in the process of developing a survey so more folks can share their thoughts about their consciousness processes. Thank you again to all who signed up!


I read two book reviews related to adoption. First was Nicole Chung’s review in The Atlantic of Matthew Pratt Gutrl’s book, Skinfolk: A Memoir. In Skinfolk, Gutrl describes his experience as a white sibling to four transracially adopted kids.

The second book review is about the Hart family, We Were Once A Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America, by Roxanna Asgarian. The review is by Jennifer Szalai for the New York Times.

Note that both articles may require a subscription.

Show the Love

I’m happy to share the release announcement for When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology edited by Nicole Chung and Shannon Gibney. I was honored to contribute to the project by writing the Afterward. The 14 stories, the forward, and afterward were all written by adoptees, and of course the editors are adoptees too. Look for this volume in October 2023. Pre-order information is here.

Cover illustration of a book, When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology. The blue background sets the stage for bright illustrations of books, hands, photographs, microphones, pens and pencils, fabric, flowers, butterflies, and spilling ink.

From the publisher:

Two teens take the stage and find their voice. . .

A girl learns about her heritage and begins to find her community. . .

A sister is haunted by the ghosts of loved ones lost. . .

There is no universal adoption experience, and no two adoptees have the same story. This anthology for teens edited by Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung contains a wide range of powerful, poignant, and evocative stories in a variety of genres. These tales from fourteen bestselling, acclaimed, and emerging adoptee authors genuinely and authentically reflect the complexity, breadth, and depth of adoptee experiences.

This groundbreaking collection centers what it’s like growing up as an adoptee. These are stories by adoptees—for adoptees, reclaiming their own narratives.

  • With stories by:
  • Kelley Baker
  • Nicole Chung
  • Shannon Gibney
  • Mark Oshiro
  • MeMe Collier
  • Susan Harness
  • Meredith Ireland
  • Mariama Lockington
  • Lisa Nopachai
  • Stefany Valentine Ramirez
  • Matthew Salesses
  • Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom
  • Eric Smith
  • Jenny Heijun Wills
  • Sun Yung Shin

Forward by Rebecca Carroll, Afterward by Jae Ran Kim.

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