22 minutes 35mm 2000


Subrosa traces a young woman's journey to Korea, the land of her birth, to find the mother she's never known. This exquisitely crafted drama probes the idealized, often false constructions of cultural and maternal identities wrought by the adoptee's return. Subrosa tracks the unnamed heroine from a sterile adoption agency office to seedy bars and motel rooms on neon strips, then to a stark U.S. army camp town and the bustling flower markets of Seoul. Though her path to self-destruction and ultimate self-revelation ironically and tragically mirrors that of her imagined biological mother, the past remains elusive to her, the secret intact. Originally shot on digital video, the film captures the grit and garishness of an alien urban landscape while plumbing the melancholy dream space where the character retreats even as she searches for her very life. Brimming with surreal, breathtaking, elegiac imagery, this sensuously rendered tale of loss, love and longing resonates long after its shocking conclusion.

"Moves beyond easy ideas about cultural identity to express an almost existential longing, capturing the senses of desire, uncertainty, desperation and salvation with a wondrous luminosity." Laura U. Marks, Assistant Professor, Carleton University

"Depicts with great artistry the profound loneliness of the Korean adoptee's search for her irretrievable origins. A compelling and unforgettable film." Elaine Kim, Asian American Studies, UC-Berkeley

“Finally, in Subrosa, Helen Lee follows a young woman back to Korea, where she hopes to track down the mother who gave her up for adoption. But will the truth consolidate her sense of her own identity, or destroy it completely? Lee maintains a delicate balance between strict realism and poetic insight, always finding just the right moment to cut in and out, providing glorious closure for both her story and the Reel Asian festival as a whole.” (Gemma Files, Eye Magazine)

Subrosa follows a Korean-American woman searching for her birth mother. Helen Lee explores how the simple fact of birth is entangled by societal fabrications of identity. The frame rests a lot on the protagonist's expressionless face, emphasizing that in Korea, she looks like everyone else. The film's eye effectively shows her alienation as she explores the sensory-filled streets.” (Phoebe Wang, Ubyssey)


Writter, Director/ Helen Lee
Producer/ Hur In-young
Assistant Director/ Vince Shin
Cinematographer/ Oh Bong-hee
Production Designer/ Kang Seung-yong
Editor/ Han Seung-ryong
Music Composer/ Sooyoung Park, Tobin Mori, Che Chou
Production Manager/ Moon Sang-chul
Lighting/ Lim Chul-hee
Sound Recording/ Hong Jung-ho
Art Director/ Kim Nam-joo


Ryu Je-ryung
Chung Young-kyung (as Bar Owner)
Rho Young-hwa (as Brothel Madame)
Moon Young-dong (as Bar Employee)
Kim Ki-chun (as Fisherman)
Kang Myung-joo (as Mother)
Bang Eun-jin (as Adoption Agency Director)

Available from:
Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre
37 Hanna Ave. #220
Toronto, Ontario Canada M6K 1W8
telephone: 416-588-0725,

Women Make Movies
462 Broadway Suite 500WS, New York, NY 10013
telephone: 212-925-0606 x360

Subrosa Script