Written by Alison Hewitt
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television professor Gina Kim already has several directorial and writing credits under her belt, but an achievement from August 2016 makes a unique and impressive addition to her résumé. Kim’s “Final Recipe” became the first movie by a South Korean director to open to wide release in China since the signing of a 2015 trade agreement between the two nations.
The movie, which co-stars Michelle Yeoh (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), tells the story of a young chef who travels from a family-owned restaurant in Singapore to an international culinary competition in China. Directing a motion picture is a challenge under any circumstances, but for “Final Recipe” to have a fair chance to appear across China meant adhering to the trade agreement’s complex terms, such as by filming in China and hiring enough Chinese cast and crew.
Kim cast actors not only from Korea and China but also from the homelands of the characters they were representing — Japan, Singapore and Thailand. That she drew talent and inspiration from several countries shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen her work: Her films often emphasize the fluid way national identities overlap. Characters in her stories might be born in one culture, grow up in another and work in a third. Kim herself was born in South Korea, attended college in the U.S., and now travels back and forth.
“Gina’s work is in full alignment with our vision around the power of story to illuminate our common humanity, to build bridges of understanding and tolerance across borders and cultures, and to be used for good and social change,” says Teri Schwartz, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
Kim joined UCLA in 2014, drawn by the campus’s commitment to public education and social responsibility, and impressed by the diversity of people and experiences. Her interest in the blending of cultures is a frequent topic of discussion in the master’s courses Kim teaches, and it’s a particularly salient one given her students’ diverse ethnic and national backgrounds.
“Sometimes they feel so discouraged thinking that their experiences are so one-of-a-kind that no one will understand them,” Kim says. “I tell them that’s why they have to tell their stories: to wake people up and show them that diversity isn’t simple.”
“A camera is power. A camera is voice. Seeing a student in her hijab holding a camera gives me hope.”