Lee Isaac Chung (born October 19, 1978) is an American film director and screenwriter. His debut feature Munyurangabo (2007) was an Official Selection at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and the first narrative feature film in the Kinyarwanda language. He also directed the feature films Lucky Life (2010) and Abigail Harm (2012). His semi-autobiographical film Minari (2020) won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. For Minari, he received numerous other major awards and nominations, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 93rd Academy Awards.
Lee Isaac Chung
|Alma mater||Yale University|
University of Utah
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, producer|
|Revised Romanization||Jeong Isak|
Early life and educationEdit
Chung was born on October 19, 1978, in Denver, to a family from South Korea. His family lived briefly in Atlanta before moving to a small farm in rural Lincoln, Arkansas. He attended Lincoln High School.
He is an alumnus of the U.S. Senate Youth Program. He attended Yale University to study biology. At Yale, with exposure to world cinema in his senior year, he dropped his plans for medical school to pursue film-making. He later pursued graduate studies in film-making at the University of Utah.
Chung's directorial debut was Munyurangabo, a movie set in Rwanda, a collaboration with students at an international relief base in Kigali, the capital city. It tells an intimate story about the friendship between two boys in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Chung had accompanied his wife Valerie, an art therapist, to Rwanda in 2006 when she volunteered to work with those affected by the 1994 genocide. He taught a film-making class at a relief base in Kigali. The movie was an opportunity to present the contemporary reality of Rwanda and to provide his students with practical film training. After he developed a nine-page outline with co-writer Samuel Gray Anderson, Chung shot the film over 11 days, working with a team of nonprofessional actors Chung found through local orphanages and with his students as crew members.
Munyurangabo premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as an Official Selection and played as an official selection at top film festivals worldwide, including the Busan International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Roger Ebert's Ebertfest, and AFI Fest in Hollywood, where it won the festival's Grand Prize. It was an official selection of the New Directors/New Films Festival at New York's Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. The film received critical acclaim, and Chung was nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards ("Someone to Watch," 2008) and the Gotham Awards.
Chung's second film, Lucky Life (2010), was developed with the support of Kodak Film and the Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival. Inspired by the poetry of Gerald Stern, the film premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and has screened at festivals worldwide.
His third film, Abigail Harm (2012), is based on the Korean folktale "The Woodcutter and the Nymph". It stars Amanda Plummer, Will Patton, and Burt Young and was produced by Eugene Suen and Samuel Gray Anderson. Shot on location in New York City, the film was an official selection at the Busan International Film Festival, Torino Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, CAAMFest, and winner of the Grand Prize and Best Director at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
In addition to film-making, Chung mentors young Rwandan film-makers through Almond Tree Rwanda, the Rwandan outpost for his U.S.-based production company, Almond Tree Films. Almond Tree Rwanda has produced several highly regarded shorts that have traveled to international festivals. Chung also co-directed the 2015 Rwandan documentary I Have Seen My Last Born with Anderson. Produced by Chung, Anderson, John Kwezi, and Eugene Suen, the film focuses on the family relations and history of a genocide survivor in modern-day Rwanda.
He wrote and directed the semiautobiographical film Minari (2020), which was released to critical acclaim. Chung wrote the film in the summer of 2018, by which time he was considering retiring from film-making and accepted a teaching job at the University of Utah's Asia Campus in Incheon. Recalling this period, he said "I figured I might have just one shot at making another film ... I needed to make it very personal and throw in everything I was feeling."
In 2020, it was initially announced that Chung would direct and rewrite the live-action adaptation of the anime film Your Name, replacing Marc Webb as director. In July 2021, Chung departed the project, citing scheduling issues.
|2007||Munyurangabo||Yes||Yes||Yes||Also editor and cinematographer|
|2010||Lucky Life||Yes||Yes||Yes||Also editor|
|2012||Abigail Harm||Yes||Yes||Uncredited||Also editor and cinematographer|
|2015||I Have Seen My Last Born||Yes||No||Yes||Documentary film|
Awards and nominationsEdit
- "한인 2세 정이삭 감독 칸 영화제 지원작품에". Korea Times. April 1, 2008. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
- Variety May 25, 2007
- "Lee Isaac Chung: Biography". IMDb. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
- Castillo, Monica (February 12, 2021). "Denver-Born Director Lee Isaac Chung's 'Minari' Blends Childhood Memories Into A New Rural American Tale". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
- Kroll, Justin (September 18, 2020). "Lee Isaac Chung To Direct 'Your Name' Live-Action Reimagining From Toho, Paramount And Bad Robot". Deadline. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
- "The 1997 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team". Arkansas Times. May 16, 1997. Retrieved March 12, 2021. - Confirmation that this is the same Lee Chung: Eifling, Sam (February 2, 2021). "'Minari' director Lee Isaac Chung talks Korean pears, growing up in rural Arkansas and reimagining the protagonist". Arkansas Times. Retrieved March 12, 2021.
The Arkansas Times took note of Chung as far back as 1997, when as a high school senior he was an Academic All-Star:[...]
- "United States Senate Youth Program Roster 1997" (PDF). United States Senate Youth Program. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- "University of Utah alum Lee Isaac Chung tells his family story in 'Minari,' a Sundance winner and Oscar contender". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
- Lim, Dennis (March 23, 2008). "Rwanda, Speaking in Its Own Voice". The New York Times.
- Chicago Sun Times July 22, 2009
- Koehler, Robert (May 27, 2007). "Liberation Day". Variety.
- Wood, Robin. "A Better Tomorrow". Film at Lincoln Center.
- The Envelope
- Vourlias, Christopher (February 4, 2012). "U.S. shingle grows Rwanda film biz". Variety.
- Kay, Jeremy (February 10, 2020). "Why Lee Isaac Chung almost quit filmmaking before directing 'Minari'". Screen Daily. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
- Dela Paz, Maggie (July 21, 2021). "Director Lee Isaac Chung Exits Paramount's Live-Action Your Name Movie". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
- McNary, Dave (December 18, 2020). "MGM and Brad Pitt's Plan B Team Up for Films With 'Minari,' 'Bad Education' Directors". Variety. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
- Hipes, Patrick (February 1, 2020). "Sundance Film Festival Awards: 'Minari' Scores Double Top Honors – The Complete Winners List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
- "Golden Globes: Winners & Nominees". February 28, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- "National Board of Review Names 'Da 5 Bloods' Best Picture, Spike Lee Becomes Second Black Director Winner". Los Angeles Times. January 26, 2021. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
- "'Minari,' 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' Top 2021 Independent Spirit Award Nominations". January 26, 2021. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
- "2020 San Diego Film Critics Society Award Winners". San Diego Film Critics Society. January 11, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
- Davis, Clayton (February 8, 2021). "Critics Choice Awards: 'Mank' Leads With 12 Nominations, Netflix Makes History With Four Best Picture Nominees". Variety. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
- Pedersen, Erik (March 9, 2021). "DGA Awards Film Nominations: 'Nomadland', 'Minari', 'Mank', 'Chicago 7' & 'Promising Young Woman' Helmers Vie For Top Prize". Deadline. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
- "The 2020 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society. Retrieved May 17, 2021.