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‘Free Chol Soo Lee’ Trailer: Sundance Doc Exposes Decades-Long Protests Over Wrongly Convicted Korean American

Exclusive: Directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi capture the legacy of racism within the American justice system.

Free Chol Sol Lee

“Free Chol Sol Lee”


As we know all too well, freedom and justice aren’t for all in America.

Sundance documentary “Free Chol Soo Lee” centers on the racial profiling and subsequent arrest of then 20-year-old Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee who was accused of a gang-related murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1973.

The documentary premieres August 12 at the IFC Center in New York City, followed by a special one-night-only simulcast screening event hosted by MUBI in over 180 theaters nationwide August 17 for the week that would’ve been Lee’s 70th birthday. After the special one-night-only event, “Free Chol Soo Lee” will continue to roll out to theaters across the country, including the Roxie Theater in San Francisco starting August 19, with Los Angeles and additional cities to come. IndieWire shares the exclusive trailer below.

As seen in the documentary, after a trial hinging on questionable accounts from white tourists, Lee is convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He spends years fighting to survive — until investigative journalist K.W. Lee takes a special interest in his case, igniting an unprecedented social justice movement that would unite Asian Americans and inspire a new generation of activists.

Lee was convicted in the death of Yip Yee Tak and later sentenced to death following the killing of fellow prisoner Morrison Needham, although Lee claimed self-defense. Lee served ten years of his sentence, four years of which were on death row, for the murder of Tak, for which he was acquitted.

Directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi spent six years capturing Lee’s legacy, using archival footage, firsthand interviews with activists, and narration from Lee’s personal writings to portray the movement to free him. Five decades after Lee’s wrongful imprisonment, “Free Chol Soo Lee” dives deeper into his re-entry into society and the pressures of being a beacon for the community.

“Free Chol Soo Lee” is produced by Su Kim (“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”), Jean Tsien (“76 Days”), and Sona Jo. Sally Jo Fifer and Lois Vossen serve as executive producers for ITVS and Independent Lens, Stephen Gong for CAAM, and XTR’s Kathryn Everett, Andy Hsieh, and Bryn Mooser. “Free Chol Soo Lee” is a co-production of ITVS in association with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

During IndieWire’s First-Time Filmmakers panel at Sundance, co-director Ha shared the inspiration behind bringing Lee’s story to the big screen.

“[K.W. Lee’s] series of stories helped trigger a landmark movement to free a wrongfully convicted man from death row,” Ha explained. “You pay attention, and it actually changes your whole world view and what might be your purpose in life. We just decided to dig in and excavate the story because we just knew it was too important not to be known.”

“Free Choo Sol Lee” premieres August 12 in theaters.

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