Deann Borshay Liem’s autobiographical documentary focuses on the unusual circumstances surrounding her childhood and the baby marketing industry of her homeland.
Born in South Korea in 1956, she was placed in an orphanage as a young child and adopted by an American couple. However, that couple was expecting a child named Cha Jung Hee – but when that child’s father reclaimed her prior to the formal adoption, Liem was given the previous girl’s identity. Liem, who claimed to have forgotten the basic elements of her youth after arriving in the U.S., did not realize the story surrounding her adoption until many years later, Liem retuned to Korea to reunite with her family and to track down the real Cha Jung Hee.
The film places a strong focus on the unsavory aspects of South Korea’s lucrative adoption industry. Even with today’s economic prosperity, South Korea profitably arranges for thousands of infants and children – mostly the offspring of unwed mothers – to be sent abroad.
But despite the traumatic elements of her life story, Liem has created a strangely upbeat film. The film’s highlight finds Liem calling every Cha Jung Hee in the Seoul telephone directory – and enjoying a good laugh at the unlikely responses (including the agitated reaction from a man with that name). Part of this positive attitude may be due to twice-traveled terrain: she previously covered a great deal of this story in her 2000 documentary “First Person Plural,” hence the film’s casual and bemused attitude.
Nonetheless, Liem’s documentary offers an insightful examination of the South Korean society and cross-cultural identifies. This is a distinctive work of nonfiction filmmaking.