Chol Soo Lee (1952-2014)

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as well as Mental Health Awareness month. Kicking off the month, UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association present “Free Chol Soo Lee” on Saturday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Billy Wilder Theatre, located inside the Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.

An in-person discussion will follow with filmmakers Julie Ha and Eugene Yi, activists Jai Lee Wong and Mike Suzuki of the Chol Soo Lee Defense Committee, Kirn Kim of API-RISE, and Benjamin Kang of the Korean American Student Association at UCLA. Introduction by David K. Yoo, UCLA professor of Asian American studies and history, and vice provost, Institute of American Cultures; and May Hong HaDuong, director, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

The Q&A will be moderated by UCLA student leader Charlene Tonai Din, whose father Grant Din notably is the photographer who captured an incredible image of Chol Soo Lee as he was released from prison.

Admission is free. No advance reservations. Free tickets must be obtained on a first- come, first-served basis at the box office, where seating will be assigned. Box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and doors open at 7 p.m. Parking is available under the Hammer Museum.

Screening presenters include the UCLA Asian American Studies Center along with community partners: UCLA Documentary Film Legal Clinic, UCLA Asian American Studies Department, UCLA Korean American Student Association, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and UCLA Nikkei Student Union.

In 1970s San Francisco, 20-year-old Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee is convicted of a Chinatown gang murder he did not commit. While Lee is serving a life sentence, a journalist takes a special interest in his case and writes a series of stories that inspire Asian Americans to rally to free him, starting a movement that unites the community like never before.

But once out, Lee struggles to live up to his newfound status as a symbol, and his demons ultimately threaten to destroy the legacy of the movement and the man himself.

Combining rich archival footage, first-hand accounts, and narration drawn from personal writings, this poignant documentary paints an intimate portrait of the complex man at the center of a movement. Highlighting the radical power of activism paired with a scathing critique of the criminal justice system, “Free Chol Soo Lee” serves as an urgent reminder that his legacy is more relevant than ever.

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