Her passport said she was Cha Jung Hee. She knew she was not. So began a 40-year deception for a Korean adoptee who came to the US in 1966. Told to keep her true identity a secret from her new American family, this eight-year-old girl quickly forgot she was ever anyone else. But why had her identity been switched? And who was the real Cha Jung Hee? IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE is the search to find the answers. It follows acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem as she returns to her native Korea to find her “double,” the mysterious girl whose place she took in America. Traversing the landscapes of memory, amnesia and identity, while also uncovering layers of deception in her adoption, this moving and provocative film probes the ethics of international adoptions and reveals the cost of living a lie. Part mystery, part personal odyssey, it raises fundamental questions about who we are…and who we could be but for the hands of fate.
IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE is a co-production of Mu Films and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), in association with Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), Katahdin Productions, and American Documentary/P.O.V., with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
Comcast Audience Award, Best Documentary, San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
Official Selection, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Special Jury Award, Best Director, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Special Jury Award, Best Editing, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Cha Jung Hee and I were fellow orphans at the Sun Duck Orphanage in South Korea in the 1960s. She and I had nothing in common and I did not know her personally. And yet, at age eight, just before I was sent to the United States to be adopted by the Borshay family in California, my identity was switched with hers without anyone’s knowledge. I was given Cha Jung Hee’s name, birth date and family history and told to keep the switch a secret. Simultaneously, through a bureaucratic sleight of hand, my previous identity was completely erased. For years, Cha Jung Hee was, paradoxically, both a stranger and also my official identity – a persona unknown, but always present, defining my life. In my new film, IN THE MATTER OF CHA JUNG HEE, I search for Cha Jung Hee finally to put her erstwhile existence to rest by meeting her in real life and finding out how she has fared.
In the course of my journey, I meet many women named Cha Jung Hee and through their stories imagine what my life would have been like had I stayed in Korea. I also delve deeper into the bureaucratic switch that changed my life and, in the process, raise questions about the history and ethics of international adoptions from South Korea.