Review: Grappling with the past in ‘Approved for Adoption’


In the half-century since the Korean War, an estimated 200,000 Korean children have been sent to adoptive homes in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. Graphic novelist Jung Henin became one of them in 1971, at age 5, and he has turned his story into a captivating coming-of-age documentary, “Approved for Adoption.”

His first film, co-directed by Laurent Boileau, is a vibrant example of hybrid nonfiction filmmaking, using hand-drawn animation, live action, home movies and newsreels in a rich synthesis of personal and historical memory.

The archival clips are eye-opening, and the animation, with its lovely subdued palette, is alive with the pains, joys and rascal spirit of childhood. Brief new live-action sequences find Jung returning to Korea after 40 years. If the connection he’s searching for doesn’t materialize, his on-screen sketching reveals a nimble grappling with the past.


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Avoiding sentimentality, the documentary is affecting as it follows Jung from the streets of his native country to the Belgian village where he joins a family with four young kids. He was one of a dozen Korean and American-Korean children in the small town, and he notes the “chic” factor of such adoptions with the wry and discerning, but never bitter, midlife perspective that shapes the movie.

Uncertainty over ethnic identity and the very specific sense of not quite belonging play out in the boy’s fascination with Japan and later, when the teenage Jung meets “real” Koreans for the first time. “Approved for Adoption” is a portrait of resolve too, chronicling the birth of an artist — from a child’s refuge in drawing to a young man’s calling.

“Approved for Adoption.” No MPAA rating. In French and Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 14 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.