America is becoming more aware of the numerous racial and cultural experiences of those whom live here. There’s something incredibly powerful about the medium of film and its ability to enable viewers to inhabit the lives of others, emotions and all. Films like the award-winning Soft Sounds of Peeling Fruit have great social impact in addition to their ability to entertain. A unique perspective, in regards to both the characters of a story as well as the storyteller themselves, is the ironically unifying facet of movies. In seeing the similarities and differences we share with others who are not exactly like us, we may come to know the commonality of our lives. Hayoung could have been any teenager caught in the throes of a crush and dealing with an unappealing family scenario but in Soft Sounds of Peeling Fruit, she is a Korean American girl who is on the precipice of a more mature understanding of the world. To manifest this world, Shi Min Yong stepped aboard as production designer of the film. Conjuring filmmaker So Young Shelly Yo’s sense of Los Angeles in the early 2000’s necessitated a subtle and scrutinizing approach on the part of Ms. Yong; one which she achieved overwhelmingly based on the reaction of the film community. Soft Sounds of Peeling Fruit premiered at this year’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival and is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. It has quickly become one of THE films to watch and has spotlighted the talented artists who created it.
There is a moment in everyone’s life when childhood ends with the expanding awareness that our parents are not one dimensional. Early in this film, Hayoung hides her relationship with her boyfriend Joon from her mother in the same way she hides her family from him. We get the sense that this teen girl resents living in urban LA and helping her mother clean houses on the weekend. The disparate looks of Koreatown versus suburbia defines the social lines which separate so many of the characters in the story. The discerning choices of PD Shi Min are visible in the world that surrounds Hayoung, from the flip phone and electronic gadgets of the early 2000s to her family’s residence. It’s evident that this Korean American girl finds herself wedged between her current social standing and her aspirations to elevate this through college. Thrift-store furniture, Korean religious totems, and VHS tapes indicate a family struggling economically in a pre-internet ubiquitous age. In contrast, the mansion home that the mother/daughter team clean is also Korean and contains a number of Korean vases in its spacious rooms. The incredible attention to detail might be lost on American viewers but those of Korean heritage immediately recognize this. It speaks profoundly that Ms. Yong and her fellow filmmakers have subtly communicated through their approach that the Korean community is not a monolith and is as varied as any other ethnic group in America. While being aware of their culture, we do not define them by it. Both Hayoung and her mother have a unique perspective and an intersect. This is particularly powerful in the final scene during an accident that destroys an expensive vase. Hayoung and Umma share a mutual traumatic experience together which leads to Hayoung’s awakening and seeing her mother in a new light. The living room surroundings become more spacious, the wind blows the curtains, sunlight shines through and the change in atmosphere feels lighter. The peeling of the Korean pear together symbolizes their mutual understanding, love, and bond between mother and daughter.
Soft Sound of Peeling Fruit is a heartfelt time capsule that is offset by the evergreen nature of this coming-of-age tale. Shi Min proclaims that delving into the perspectives of other cultures is one of the most interesting aspects of her work. A 2nd generation Singaporean whose grandparents immigrated from China, Ms. Yong’s credits include films about the Korean American, Taiwanese American, and Sierra Leonean American experiences. She explains, “Even though I am not Taiwanese, Korean, or Sierra Leonean, the first thing I do is tap into how I connect with the story and what our shared experiences are. After a dialogue with the directors and writers, I always want to talk to more people and do more research, make mood boards, photos, and sketches to visually communicate with the director and I want to do for each set design.” If America is truly to understand itself and reach a more hopeful place, the work of insightful and talented professionals like Shi Min Yong is a necessary ingredient; one which also creates highly entertaining films.