First Person Plural | Chicago Reader

First Person Plural

This isn't the first film about an Americanized Korean orphan returning to her native land to reconcile the past and the present—and it may not be the last. But Deann Borshay Liem's hour-long 1999 documentary is unusually vivid, partly because she knows how to generate suspense and partly because she successfully addresses the larger issues of filial allegiance and self-identity. Adopted in 1964 by a middle-class family in northern California, eight-year-old Liem blossomed into a popular teenager; only later did she learn her birth mother was still alive. She clearly loves her proud, affectionate American parents, yet after her visit to Korea as an adult, she can't let go of her sad-eyed Korean mother, who wanted a better life for her youngest child. Addressing the camera, Liem confesses her ambivalence toward America and expresses her disdain of any government that would make adoption a lucrative export business. At the film's climax she finally realizes her dream of gathering all her parents in one room, a scene that touches a raw nerve as the two mothers size each other up.

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