Free Chol Soo Lee | Film Threat


OPENING IN NEW YORK! Chol Soo Lee’s case can solely be described as Kafkaesque. Directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s documentary, Free Chol Soo Lee, take us to San Francisco’s Chinatown within the 70s. A Chinese gang places out successful on one other gang member. The killer shoots the rogue gang member on the street in broad daylight. The killer flees. In the police’s haste to nab a suspect, they stumble on Chol Soo Lee. Lee had a legal report and occurred to be the sufferer’s neighbor. The police discover a gun in Lee’s house that matches the gun suspected within the homicide.

A lesser documentary would have piled on each institutional blunder and ill-fated twist in Lee’s case in quickfire succession. Instead, Ha and Yi permit Lee’s private story to unfold as they slowly drip particulars of how Lee got here to be sentenced to dying. The police’s main witnesses had been all white. These witnesses all recognized Lee in a bodily lineup. Putting apart the police’s maddening disregard for the phenomenon of cross-racial identification, they went as far as to bury the file of an Asian witness that was a mere 12 ft away from the scene of the crime. That Asian witness might have helped Lee’s case. In addition, the juries in Lee’s instances had been all white. The police’s personal mugshot e book had a racist Chinese cartoon on the quilt.

I point out that final element not solely as proof of racism on the a part of the San Francisco police division but additionally to spotlight what is maybe essentially the most absurd and maddening element within the Lee case. Several TV news reviews and newspapers recognized Lee as Chinese. Lee was Korean! In truth, it could have been not possible, given the cultural and linguistic gulfs between the Chinese and Korean communities, that Chinese gangs would have employed a Korean killer to hold out a homicide.

Chol Soo Lee , served 9 years in jail for Chinatown homicide, however will get new trial, July 30, 1982 Photo ran 08/02/1982, P. 2 (Photo by John O’Hara/San Francisco Chronicle through Getty Images)

“In the police’s haste to nab a suspect, they hit upon Chol Soo Lee…”

Free Chol Soo Lee shines when spotlighting Lee’s private story. His mom left him behind at a younger age in Korea. He was raised in poverty by an aunt and uncle. Lee’s mom later did return and introduced him to the United States. In the U.S., Lee led a lonely and alienated existence. He had a tough time with English, had bother with a college system targeted on assimilating Chinese college students, and didn’t perceive variations in Asian cultures. Lee went from being put in a delinquent juvenile facility to a psychiatric ward. These experiences led him to undertake a fair more durable persona.

Ha and Yi, by the determine of Lee, are making a grand assertion in regards to the Asian and immigrant expertise. Immigrants like Lee usually lead lonely precarious lives. As Ok.W. Lee — an investigative reporter who advocated for and befriended Lee — places it, there’s a “thin line between his (Lee) fate and mine.” Lee’s case galvanized a gaggle of Asian activists that advocated for his innocence. While the narrative focuses on Lee’s story, it additionally appears to be like on the activists who labored for Asian rights, dignity, and justice.

There’s a throughline on this nation’s historical past that goes from The Asian Exclusion Act to Chol Soo Lee’s case to publicized instances in the previous few years of hate crimes in opposition to Asians. Free Chol Soo Lee reminds us that after we sit on the sideline and don’t actively combat in opposition to discrimination and the stereotyping of Asians, actual folks, equivalent to Chol Soo Lee, endure.



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