One of approximately 5,000 Korean children adopted by Dutch families in the 1970s — nearly a quarter-million were sent abroad — filmmaker In-Soo Radstake goes on a belated search for his roots in “Made in Korea.” While this sort of investigative personal docu has been done and done again of late, the helmer’s wryly understated approach results in a disarming, eventually touching effort that stands out from the pack. Further fest dates and select tube sales are signaled.
Apparently left by a midwife on a police station doorstep, Radstake was still an infant when he and seven other foundlings were flown to adoptive families in the Netherlands. Raised by doting parents in a northern Holland town, he says “I feel 100% Dutch,” and seldom felt any curiosity about his mysterious origins.
Deciding to give them a prod after all, he contacts the other adoptees who’d been on his 1979 flight. Several have already visited Korea and/or made contact with blood relatives, including Ungila van Es, with whom In-Soo falls in love. They travel together to Seoul, visiting the abandoned orphanage where he spent his earliest days, as well as the mother she’s re-established contact with. They now have a fond relationship, but mom later reflects Korean attitudes when she offhandedly admits, “I’ll always feel like a sinner for giving you up.”
In trying to trace his own birth mother, In-Soo runs into a frustrating bureaucratic “wall of shame” intended to protect parents’ anonymity. Even decades later, revelation that a woman had once given birth out of wedlock could destroy her reputation and current family circumstances. Amusingly, the helmer uses underhanded means to get some info officials don’t want to hand over (at one point his cameraman simply stands behind a police desk and covertly films their computer screen). But still, he keeps running into dead ends.
Finally, he reluctantly consents to appear on a popular TV program in which real people are tearfully reunited with relatives. That exposure, plus a separate documentary a Korean net airs on his quest, succeed in rooting out his mother. Still, as the filmmaker explained after the pic’s San Francisco Asian-American Film Fest screening, while he has communicated with his mother, he has not yet actually met her.
Pic is far from a vanity project, but derives much of its flavor from In-Soo’s own likably low-key, average-Joe personality. He and van Es make pleasant company, both even-tempered enough so that when emotion does breaks through on-camera, it has real impact.
Production’s occasional rough edges suit the verite subject matter, with very good work from editors Remi van der Heiden and Johnny Zuidhof.