FREE CHOL SOO LEE
Directors: Julie Ha and Eugene Yi
Release Date: August 19
Chol Soo Lee was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1973. The 22-year-old Korean immigrant was convicted for being part of a gangland assassination in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The only issue is that he was the victim of cross-racial identification and never committed the crime in question. Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s documentary explores a well trodden tale of police wrong-doings, prison brutality and challenging aftermaths. However, it also shines a light on the awakening of a social movement within a community – the Asian American one, in this instance, as they stood up to a blatant miscarriage of justice and challenged lazy societal prejudices.
The handsome and softly-spoken Lee is defiant even when he is also wrongfully convicted of a prison-yard murder and faces four years on death row. He relies on thoughtful correspondence with the outside world and the work of investigative journalist K.W. Lee who made the case, “my calling to make some small dent in that world of ignorance and insensitivity”. Eventually justice prevails but as is often the case, negotiating life on the outside comes with its own perils. Free Chol Soo Lee pieces together a compelling portrait of a sensitive man who missed all the lucky breaks in life.
Today almost 2m people are imprisoned in the U.S. One in three people behind bars in a jail have yet to be tried in court. They are presumed innocent.
Words: Michael McDermott