Free Chol Soo Lee – an American documentary film released late last year – has just been screened by our Film Society … how evocative, while being informative, it was … quite, quite extraordinary …
The Towner's guide review is as follows:
Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s intelligent, insightful and vital documentary explores systemic racism within the American criminal justice system via the extraordinary story of one man.
In 1970s San Francisco, 20-year-old Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee is convicted of a Chinatown gang murder after cursory racial profiling.
After spending years fighting to survive, investigative journalist K.W. Lee takes a special interest in his case, igniting Soo Lee’s hopes of acquittal and inspiring an unprecedented social justice movement that spanned generations.
At a moment when the Asian diaspora is experiencing a surge in racist violence following the pandemic, this extraordinarily moving documentary feels especially timely, a way of entering and understanding the long history of discrimination faced by this international community.
Exploring Soo Lee’s complex life after being freed, as well as his time in prison, Free Chol Soo Lee is a powerful indictment of systemic racism and the criminal justice system, and the stunning latest in a series of US films and TV series placing a contemporary lens on historic miscarriages of justice and bringing them back into the light.
Our Chairman sent out a reminder to members that they'd be missing out if they didn't get to see the 2nd showing … the early group all praised it to the rafters …We complete a reaction slip for each film society programme we watch … one member confirmed the film as 'totally engrossing and absorbing' …
|Chol Soo Lee|
Story telling at its best – but about a real person … I was completely bowled over … so I do hope you'll be able to look into this documentary (86 minutes) … I can't praise it enough … and cannot do anymore than recommend it and hope you all will make a plan to see it …
Mentally I came away wondering how on earth one man could have lived a normal life after being in prison and on death row for years … the torment he must have experienced …
… then relate it to immigrants, and here to refugees, who have travelled vast distances, crossed seas … encountered who knows what …
… coerced into actions they'd never normally take … I am so lucky I live in the world I do … this film and others, I hope, make us realise how fortunate we are … I'm going to hear a talk by an Afghan refugee tomorrow night …
Oh how I would like people to be kinder, more thoughtful, not jump to conclusions … think about things – would you like that to happen to you … we are not living in easy times …
|Tony Serra - courtroom sketch|
I was intrigued to learn about Tony Serra – the civil rights attorney, activist, tax resister – who came to defend Chol Soo Lee … another real-life character worth knowing about …
Chol Soo Lee – Wikipedia
The Towner Film section … Free Chol Soo Lee
Tony Serra - Wikipedia
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I really do hope that using a contemporary lens to examine historical injustices brings them to justice finally.
But I suspect not always. The Geoffrey Dahmer Netflix story was much kinder to him than I thought was fair.
This sounds like a disturbing and fascinating documentary. There is too much emphasis on 'celebrity culture' and not enough time and space given to really important issues in our media.
Interesting documentary but I suspect we will not get a chance to see it.
Take care, cheers Diane
I see that this film is available on MUBI, for those who cannot access any cinema showing... thanks for making us aware of it, Hilary. YAM xx
Thank you for making me aware of this film about yet another injustice in the country I now call home. I am so painfully aware of my privileged life here, based on the way I look and where I came from: a tall, blond, blue-eyed, Swede. I have always been aware how unfair this is and wondered how this can be. There are people here, who today, in 2023, sincerely believe that America was a gift from God to white Christians.
This is about as strange to me as Alice's journey down the rabbit hole.
@ Hels - it at least points a finger ... which this film certainly does - too late ... I wouldn't have gone to see this sort of film without the recommendation of our Film Society Chairman, who is incredibly knowledgeable about film ...
@ Janice - it is an incredible documentary ... Yam mentions it can be seen here in the UK on MUBI (there is a subscription cost) ... I was so pleased I went to see it ... so well worthwhile.
@ Diane - yes I'm sorry you have such difficulty living in the French countryside so connectivity is not easy ... but at least you're aware of the film - great to see you here - I'll be over to see South Africa and your trip ... lucky you!
@ Yam - thanks for the tip about MUBI - I'll definitely consider it ... and know you'd appreciate this film ...
@ Inger - it is a brilliant piece of documentary making ... so well put together from the archives, interviews and news commentary ... it's compelling viewing.
And yes re your comments - I consider myself fortunate ... though I'm not a tall blond blue-eyed Swede (sadly!!) ... and we have a very polarised society here too ... I hope yours realise they were immigrants way back when ...as no doubt as I am in the very distant past.
Life - is interesting ... thanks for visiting - cheers to you all - Hilary
Sadly, his story is way too common. The American justice system is deeply broken.
Thanks for sharing this, Hils. We should be so far past this in our country. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well.
Sadly, I doubt racism will ever be eradicated. One can only imagine the horrors Chol Soo Lee suffered in prison. Thank goodness Tony Serra was able to help him! True stories are usually the most riveting.
The human spirit of survival can be very strong. How wonderful he had such advocates, but sadly many don't. By shining a light on one story, I hope it raises others into the limelight.
I agree that a life after that trauma must be very difficult.
@ Liz - I know ... but I thought this 2022 documentary was worth mentioning - thanks
@ Sandra - I agree, here too, but as I mentioned above - I think perhaps this has some ideas for story tellers ...
@ Debbie - yes I can see your point re racism ... but really if our leaders/people in charge behaved properly we'd be on the way to helping ... Tony Serra was inspirational to find out about - interesting character ...
@ Annalisa - your comment is so pertinent - shining a light is what I hope I've done here ... and highlight so many inequalities in life - which we all should not allow.
Thanks for mentioning the trauma Chol Soo Lee had to overcome ... on his own most of the time ... he had to be so strong in his mind ...
So pleased to see you all for commenting - and thank you for those thoughts - cheers Hilary
I could very easily say many stronger things, Hilary, but let me contain myself to the simple observation that racial profiling and injustice based on skin colour or social status, are alive and well, thriving even, in America. It is not likely to change any time soon. More people languish in prisons, often wrongly convicted, than in all the other countries of the world combined. I cannot begin to imagine the mental strength it must take to endure having one's life ruined and spending years in captivity for no good reason. Injustice is alive and well in the 21st Century.
Sadly, miscarriages of justice don't seem to be unusual - nor do racially-inspired ones. Thank goodness for those two film makers and thank you for not filling this post with spoilers!
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Well, you've topped me on a documentary. I haven't heard of this one and shall seek it out. It is amazing what people are put through in this day and age. Why can't we all get along? Ah, sweet mystery of life - too much energy in hate and not enough in love. Thanks for this post. I have to find this documentary.
'Kinder, more thoughtful and not jumping to conclusions.' Great wishes indeed.
@ David - I know ... I could too - but thought this documentary was well worth highlighting to anyone interested, despite the injustices in life. As you mention - it doesn't seem to be likely to 'sort itself out' anytime soon ...
I'm glad you noted the mental strength ... eventually he had support from 'his community' - that's what's another amazing aspect of this film. Also his lawyers and journalists ...
@ Bazza - I know miscarriages of justice all too often still occur - as we keep seeing.
It looks like you'll be looking up the film - taken from your note that I didn't give any spoilers ... it's such an interesting historical documentary ...
@ thanks Joanne - and I'm so pleased you'll look it up ... perhaps you could promote it too? I'll be interested to see what you think ...
Yes - you're right there ... too much energy in hate and not enough in love. I'm so pleased it resonated with you ...
@ Sandra - yes ... kinder, more thoughtful and not jumping to conclusions - think before we speak!
I'm delighted you four found the post interesting and will check out the documentary when you can - thanks so much - cheers for now - Hilary
I'll look for this one! Thanks so much for letting us know about Free Chol Soo Lee. So true that our world could use a bit more kindness in it!
How was the talk by the Afghan refugee?
@ Elizabeth - that's great ... you'll enjoy the way the documentary's been put together ... a story telling miscarriage of justice, as well as community. Oh yes we do need more kindness and thoughtfulness ...
@ Sandra - I wimped out... but I do have his book to read ... which I must do very soon ... it was wet, cold and the thought of walking around late at night didn't thrill me ... hence the wimp out. But my space was released for someone else - they had a long waiting list ... I'll read the review in the local paper ...
Cheers to you both - and thanks for your support - Hilary
Thanks for calling attention to a film that, sadly is once again important in society.
What an interesting yet disturbing film that must be. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it, Hilary.
thank you Hilary for this inspirational documentary and story. Stay Positive always. Wishing you a pleasant weekend.
@ Dan - I hope you can get to see it ... it's a fascinating watch .. .
@ Keith - great to know you might look it out ... it's worth it ...
@ Susan - yes I stay positive thankfully ... but if you can get to see it please do ...
Thanks for coming by - cheers Hilary
What a tragic story. I am glad it has a happy ending. It is sad to me that such a horrid story probably got lost in the deluge of 'everything is about racism' here in America. Anyone who disagrees with the 'other' side is racist anymore, in America. This, though, sounds like the real thing.
There are so many such stories waiting to be discovered, I'm thinking, and glad that this one turned out as it did even after so many years. I just can't even imagine how hard that must have been. Appreciate you sharing the info about it, Hilary.
I must apologize, I realized today that I never responded to your kind comment on my blog back in November. I rarely forget to do that, and am sorry! I did read it initially but must have gotten distracted somehow. Anyway, I finally did respond, lol, and appreciate you taking the time to stop by and say hello. So glad you've stayed the course here and keep moving forward. Thanks for your kind friendship over the years and miles. Have a wonderful week! :D
You have convinced me that it is worth seeing. I shy away from such things because they are so heart-wrenching at times. One of the schools I used to work for has Holocaust survivors come in to speak to the students. That's riveting but heartbreaking too.
@ Jacqui - tragic is right ... yet a dreadfully sad life - he really struggled after he was freed. The engagement of the Asian community was fascinating to read about ... it's such an interesting film to watch - I hope you get a chance.
@ Karen - so lovely to see you ... no worries ... just glad to re-connect again (or keep in touch).
I'm sure there are plenty of stories to be told ... but I was so interested to see this one - a fascinating way of recording his unfair life ...
@ Rosey - great to see you ... and to note that you're convinced you should watch it - it's such an excellent way of telling the story.
Yes - the Holocaust survivors' stories are heart-rending too ... life can be so unfair - and we need to understand others' points of view and how and why they've suffered.
Thanks for your comments - it's so good to see your thoughts ... cheers Hilary
It's always sad when someone who is innocent is made to spend life in prison, that too for so many years. Thanks for letting me know about Chol Soo Lee. Not sure if the movie is available in this region. I will check, anyway.
Spot on, Hilary. I always say we didn't do anything to be born privileged and how dare we punish those who want some of that privilege. That story from the Afghan refugee should be eye opening.
Hi Pradeep - yes this story was particularly harrowing, yet uplifting in some ways by the community ... though for Chol Soo Lee - a terrible life. I'm glad you'll be checking the film out ... it's worth seeing ...
@ Denise - thanks ... I know this tells a 'terrible' injustice of a life lived ... so unfair - but the storyline is worth seeing ...
Yes - I must read the Afghan Refugee's book - the beginning is eye-opening ... and deserves a blogpost ...
Thanks to you both for your pertinent comments ... cheers Hilary
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