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Karoline Sofie Lee on the London Korean Film Festival

19 November 18 interview: Phoebe Cox

We sat down for a chat with the lovely Karoline Sofie Lee, star of The Return, which is screening at Broadway Cinema on Saturday 24 November as part of the 2018 London Korean Film Festival...

Blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, The Return tells the story of Karoline, a South Korean born woman adopted by Danish parents as a baby, returning to the country of her birth for the first time in order to track down her birth family. Director Malene Choi draws on her own personal experience as an adoptee, and does the same of her lead actress.  Born in South Korea and adopted by Danish parents, The Return is clearly an incredibly personal film to Karoline Sofie Lee... 

In your opinion, what do you feel is the soul of The Return? How would you summarise it for those that haven’t seen it yet?

I think the main topic is adoption, but for me it’s much more than that. It’s about identity and knowing who you are. Knowing your story and where you come from. So, I think that can speak to a lot of people, also people who are not adopted.

What do you hope people take away from this film?

I hope that it will give people a better understanding of being an adoptee, because today when we talk about adoption I think there are a lot of views we don’t discuss, mainly from the adoptee’s point of view. I think a lot of people have this idea that adoption is fairly simple. There’s maybe a couple, they can’t have kids and there’s a child that hasn’t got any parents and we make a match. And then they live happily ever after, but it’s so much more complicated than that. And I think that the film portrays that very well.

Which was the most challenging part of bringing the story to life on screen?

It’s always challenging when it comes close to your own story. Because the director Malene (Choi) is a documentarian, a lot of the scenes were not scripted and she was just giving directions like, "Let’s try to do this sceneand then I had to instantly find these emotions within myself to portray them on camera. I could do so because I’m also adopted, but then I have to use my own personal story, my own personal feelings. So sometimes that is what people will see when they watch the movie and that was difficult. There’s an interview with the Korean artist (in the film), she’s showing me some of her work and she’s telling me about these characters she’s invented. She spoke to me about certain emotions and I could recognise those emotions from myself and that touched me a lot, so I got very moved by the whole scene and that’s also what you see in the movie.

We weren’t really sure if the camera was on. So, we just started talking and suddenly Malene just said, "that’s a wrap!"

What was it like working with Malene Choi?

It was a good start for me as an actor, because it gave me a lot of freedom and I could really just give it a shot. Sometimes she just made a scene up that wasn’t really in the original treatment, because she saw an opportunity to do something meaningful and then she left it to me to play it out. That made it easier than if there was a script and that I had to portray certain feelings. I could just go with whatever I felt at that moment and if she was not really happy about that, she could say "Well, okay then, try to be angry. Let’s do it over… find the anger." So I think it was an interesting way to do it.

What was the most enjoyable scene to shoot?

Well there is this one scene I really like from the movie, and it’s when Thomas and I sit on some rocks and we talk. That is actually Thomas and me talking. We weren’t really sure if the camera was on. So, we just started talking and suddenly Malene just said, "That’s a wrap!" And we were like, "What? Okay…" That was not a scene in the original treatment and I think it came out really good. Another scene I’m happy about is when I’m at the adoption agency… Well, I’m not happy about that scene because it was frustrating to play it, but I think it’s important because the social worker believes that we are there to find my Mom and I have been there before, so I was playing the part… But she isn’t. Everything she is saying is totally real. We are sitting with my original Adoption papers. I think it portrays how difficult it can be to get help.

If you could have any actor play you in the story of your life, who would you cast and why?

Wow, that’s a really difficult question. I’m not sure really because if we should make a movie about my life, I would definitely want an Asian woman to play my character. And in Denmark there are not many Asian actresses, I think we are only three at the moment. People are talking a lot about white-washing in Hollywood for instance, that we have this story about an Asian woman, but we make a white American actress play her part and I don’t like that, because it’s not true to the real story. 

Is there anything you would like to say to maybe young or old aspiring Asian actors/performers – to give voice to that?

I guess I would like to say that when I was a child I always dreamed about being an actress. Mainly about making movies. I gave up that dream because I looked at Danish cinema and you don’t really see Asian people. But suddenly this opportunity came to me and it came out of nowhere, so I guess some dreams do come true. I’m not educated as an actor, I have a Masters in Communications, but I guess if you have a passion and a dream – don’t give that hope up. You never know what’s going to happen. I would love to do more but I’m not really sure how, but you never know.

What’s in the pipeline for future projects, have you got anything coming up?

No actually, not when it comes to acting. I guess my problem is that I’m a new actor in Denmark and The Return hasn’t really been screened very much here. It’s on this journey in all the film festivals, so the Danish audience don’t know much about the film or me and I’m not that familiar yet with the film industry. I’m all green and new. But I hope that when the movie is shown in Denmark again, that maybe people will see and acknowledge my work and maybe have interest in working with me. I’m just happy that the movie is travelling all around the world. I didn’t expect that at all, but a lot of people will have the opportunity to watch it and I hope that even though you’re not adopted or maybe you don’t know any adoptees, you would want to see the movie anyway because it gives some new perspectives and it could maybe also give something to you.

The Return is screening at Broadway Cinema as part of the London Korean Film Festival 2018 on Saturday 24 November

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