Konglish is a feature film currently in post-production by Seven to Forty Cinema. Taking place in Busan, South Korea, the story follows English teacher Chris, who is lazy at work and lazy in life — an expat looking for a good time, trying to run away from the shame and responsibilities of his life back home.
After his school fires him for boring the students and his girlfriend (Song Jiyeon) dumps him for not learning any Korean, he must make the choice of going back home or starting over and doing things right.
At his lowest point, Chris meets Minhee (Son Sooah), a bright young Korean woman who has plans to live abroad in the future. Hoping to reverse his destructive lifestyle, he agrees to help Minhee study for an upcoming English exam if she helps him learn Korean. Even without the right words, they know there's something more between them — but Minhee is still tied to her boyfriend Sangwon (Yoo Mingon), and Chris is always one mistake away from reverting back to his old ways of failure.
Konglish is based on writer/director Christopher Arnone’s personal experience as an English teacher in South Korea. After returning to Canada, Christopher developed a treatment for the project during his MA in Media Production at Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media, and then completed several drafts of the script in the years following his graduation.
Arriving in Korea with only a script, he began to assemble a team to realize the project. The cast and crew were a diverse group of Koreans and expats from all over the world. After seventeen days of shooting, and with a budget of only $15,000, filming of Konglish was completed in August of 2018.
Staying true to the autobiographical nature of the project, writer/director Christopher Arnone takes on the lead role in the film. His character “Chris“ is an aimless expat, running from responsibility.
song jiyeon (송지연)
Actress Song Jiyeon plays Seoyeon, Chris's demanding ex-girlfriend. Seoyeon thought that dating Chris would be more interesting, but soon found that he’s just like everyone else.
Stage and voice actor Will Jacobs takes his first on-screen role as Mark in Konglish. Mark is Chris’s hedonistic coworker who uses drinking to forget his past failures as an athlete.
son sooah (손수아)
Rising Korean actress Son Sooah plays the role of Minhee, a young woman who has goals of moving abroad, despite the wishes of the controlling men in her life. She befriends Chris to help practice for an upcoming English exam.
yoo mingon (유민곤)
Canadian-Korean actor Yoo Mingon plays the role of Sangwon. As Minhee’s boyfriend, Sangwon is loyal and perhaps overly-attached, seeking to control crucial decisions in her life.
Erin Wuchte is an active member of Busan’s expat theatre community. She plays the role of Chris’s coworker, Jenny, who does her best to integrate with Korean language and culture.
Writer / Director / producer / actor
Christopher Arnone is a Canadian-Italian filmmaker based in Toronto. He studied English Literature and Film Studies at The University of Western Ontario, and Media Production at Ryerson University. Between his Bachelor’s and Master’s, Christopher spent a year teaching English in South Korea, where he also completed the short film “Interchange”. His more recent short film “No Connection” has screened at the Future of Film Showcase in Toronto and KIXFF in Seoul. Konglish is Christopher’s first feature film.
Notes from the Director
The first draft of the screenplay was far longer than the final version and followed my real-life experience much more closely. As I wrote successive drafts, the story became more fictionalized as I found the film’s narrative path. While Konglish is a personal story, it is worth telling is because it speaks to a wider feeling of malaise felt by myself and the people around me. The feeling among expat English teachers is that they’re in a state of limbo, taking the time to consider where they’ve been in life and where they’re going -- for very few it is the final destination. Konglish is a way for me to present the phenomenon of teaching abroad as a result of a generation who have been processed through the university system with generic degrees, limited work opportunities, and no sense of life direction.
The most common question I receive when discussing the film is why I chose to film in Busan instead of Seoul -- it certainly would have been easier with far more resources and actors in the country's capital. Having lived and filmed in Busan before, the city itself was an integral part of the project from the very beginning. The expatriate community in Busan is much smaller than that of Seoul, which creates an entirely different dynamic. Everyone knows each other in some way or another, creating a kind of sealed community that I wanted to put on display in the film. Busan also has an amazing density of urban and natural spaces with skyscrapers, mountains and the ocean all within steps of each other -- a backdrop that emphasizes a constant search for escape.
It took some convincing when I first told Paul Steinke, my cinematographer, that I wanted to shoot one shot per scene, but after a day of shooting test footage together, we were on the same page. I wanted to create a sober atmosphere by shooting handheld and allowing the actors to use the space around them. We used longer lenses to pan between characters during moments of quiet tension, keeping the camera on reactions rather than on lines being delivered. Wider lenses were used in more chaotic scenes, following Chris through his workplace and bars like a rat in a maze. These longer takes result in the visual containment of the characters, just as they are trapped in this stage of their lives.