Lee Isaac Chung

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Lee Isaac Chung
Chung in a VOA interview from 2021
Born (1978-10-19) October 19, 1978 (age 45)
Alma materYale University
University of Utah
  • Film director
  • screenwriter
  • producer
Years active2007–present
Korean name
Revised RomanizationJeong Isak
McCune–ReischauerChŏng Isak

Lee Isaac Chung (born October 19, 1978) is an American filmmaker. His debut feature Munyurangabo (2007) was an official selection at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and the first narrative feature film in the Kinyarwanda language.[2]

Chung gained fame for directing the semi-autobiographical film Minari (2020), for which he received numerous major awards and nominations, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the 93rd Academy Awards. In 2023, he directed an episode in the third season of the Star Wars series The Mandalorian.

Early life and education[edit]

Chung was born on October 19, 1978,[3] in Denver, to a family from South Korea. His family lived briefly in Atlanta before moving to a small farm in rural Lincoln, Arkansas.[4][5] He attended Lincoln High School.[6]

He is an alumnus of the U.S. Senate Youth Program.[7] He attended Yale University to study biology. At Yale, with exposure to world cinema in his senior year, he dropped his plans for medical school to pursue film-making.[5][8] He later pursued graduate studies in film-making at the University of Utah.[8]


Chung's directorial debut was Munyurangabo, a movie set in Rwanda, a collaboration with students at an international relief base in Kigali, the capital city. It tells an intimate story about the friendship between two boys in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Chung had accompanied his wife Valerie, an art therapist, to Rwanda in 2006 when she volunteered to work with those affected by the 1994 genocide. He taught a film-making class at a relief base in Kigali. The movie was an opportunity to present the contemporary reality of Rwanda and to provide his students with practical film training. After he developed a nine-page outline with co-writer Samuel Gray Anderson, Chung shot the film over 11 days, working with a team of nonprofessional actors Chung found through local orphanages and with his students as crew members.[9]

Munyurangabo premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as an Official Selection and played as an official selection at top film festivals worldwide, including the Busan International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, Roger Ebert's Ebertfest, and AFI Fest in Hollywood, where it won the festival's Grand Prize. It was an official selection of the New Directors/New Films Festival at New York's Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. The film received critical acclaim,[10][11][12] and Chung was nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards ("Someone to Watch," 2008) and the Gotham Awards.[13]

Chung's second film, Lucky Life (2010), was developed with the support of Kodak Film and the Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival. Inspired by the poetry of Gerald Stern, the film premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City and has screened at festivals worldwide.

In 2012 Chung was named a United States Artists (USA) Fellow.[14]

Chung's third film, Abigail Harm (2012), is based on the Korean folktale "The Woodcutter and the Nymph". It stars Amanda Plummer, Will Patton, and Burt Young and was produced by Eugene Suen and Samuel Gray Anderson. Shot on location in New York City, the film was an official selection at the Busan International Film Festival, Torino Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, CAAMFest, and winner of the Grand Prize and Best Director at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

In addition to film-making, Chung mentors young Rwandan film-makers through Almond Tree Rwanda, the Rwandan outpost for his U.S.-based production company, Almond Tree Films. Almond Tree Rwanda has produced several highly regarded shorts that have traveled to international festivals.[15] Chung also co-directed the 2015 Rwandan documentary I Have Seen My Last Born with Anderson. Produced by Chung, Anderson, John Kwezi, and Eugene Suen, the film focuses on the family relations and history of a genocide survivor in modern-day Rwanda.

He wrote and directed the semiautobiographical film Minari (2020), which was released to critical acclaim. Chung wrote the film in the summer of 2018, by which time he was considering retiring from film-making and accepted a teaching job at the University of Utah's Asia Campus in Incheon. Recalling this period, he said "I figured I might have just one shot at making another film ... I needed to make it very personal and throw in everything I was feeling."[16]

In 2020, it was initially announced that Chung would direct and rewrite the live-action adaptation of the anime film Your Name, replacing Marc Webb as director.[5] In July 2021, Chung departed the project, citing scheduling issues.[17]

He is also developing a romance film set in New York and Hong Kong, produced by Plan B and MGM.[18]

In December 2022, Chung was in talks and hired to direct the sequel to Jan de Bont's Twister, titled Twisters, set to be released in July 2024.[19][20] [21] In March 2023, he directed an episode of the third season of the Disney+ series, The Mandalorian.[22]



Year Title Director Writer Producer Note
2007 Munyurangabo Yes Yes Yes Also editor and cinematographer
2010 Lucky Life Yes Yes Yes Also editor
2012 Abigail Harm Yes Yes Uncredited Also editor and cinematographer
2020 Minari Yes Yes No
2024 Twisters Yes No No Post-production


  • I Have Seen My Last Born (2015)


Year Title Note
2023 The Mandalorian Episode: "Chapter 19: The Convert"
2024 Star Wars: Skeleton Crew TBA

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result Ref.
2007 AFI Fest Grand Jury Prize Munyurangabo Won
Amiens International Film Festival SIGNIS Award Won
Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard Nominated
Caméra d'Or Nominated
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Director Nominated
2008 Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival Best First Film Won
Independent Spirit Awards Someone to Watch Award Nominated
Sarasota Film Festival Narrative Feature Film Won
2010 Bratislava International Film Festival Grand Prix Lucky Life Nominated
Tribeca Film Festival Best Narrative Feature Nominated
2013 CAAMFest Best Narrative Abigail Harm Nominated
Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Best Director - Narrative Feature Won
Best Narrative Feature Won
2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Best Documentary Feature I Have Seen My Last Born Nominated
2020 Chicago Film Critics Association Milos Stehlik Award for Promising Filmmaker Minari Nominated
Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Best Director Nominated
Best Screenplay Won
North Carolina Film Critics Association Best Original Screenplay Won
Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition Grand Jury Prize Won [23]
U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award Won
2021 Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won [24]
National Board of Review Best Original Screenplay Won [25]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Nominated [26]
Best Director Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Original Screenplay Won [27]
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Screenplay Won
Critics' Choice Awards Best Director Nominated [28]
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Best Foreign Language Film Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directional Achievement in Feature Film Nominated [29]
BAFTA Awards Best Film Not in the English Language Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Academy Awards Best Director Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society Best Director Nominated [30]
Best Original Screenplay Won


  1. ^ "한인 2세 정이삭 감독 칸 영화제 지원작품에". Korea Times. April 1, 2008. Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  2. ^ Variety May 25, 2007
  3. ^ "Lee Isaac Chung: Biography". IMDb. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  4. ^ Castillo, Monica (February 12, 2021). "Denver-Born Director Lee Isaac Chung's 'Minari' Blends Childhood Memories Into A New Rural American Tale". Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Kroll, Justin (September 18, 2020). "Lee Isaac Chung To Direct 'Your Name' Live-Action Reimagining From Toho, Paramount And Bad Robot". Deadline. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  6. ^ "The 1997 Arkansas Times Academic All-Star Team". Arkansas Times. May 16, 1997. Retrieved March 12, 2021. - Confirmation that this is the same Lee Chung: Eifling, Sam (February 2, 2021). "'Minari' director Lee Isaac Chung talks Korean pears, growing up in rural Arkansas and reimagining the protagonist". Arkansas Times. Retrieved March 12, 2021. The Arkansas Times took note of Chung as far back as 1997, when as a high school senior he was an Academic All-Star:[...]
  7. ^ "United States Senate Youth Program Roster 1997" (PDF). United States Senate Youth Program. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "University of Utah alum Lee Isaac Chung tells his family story in 'Minari,' a Sundance winner and Oscar contender". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved March 3, 2021.
  9. ^ Lim, Dennis (March 23, 2008). "Rwanda, Speaking in Its Own Voice". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Chicago Sun Times July 22, 2009
  11. ^ Koehler, Robert (May 27, 2007). "Liberation Day". Variety.
  12. ^ Wood, Robin. "A Better Tomorrow". Film at Lincoln Center.
  13. ^ The Envelope
  14. ^ "United States Artists » Lee Isaac Chung". Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  15. ^ Vourlias, Christopher (February 4, 2012). "U.S. shingle grows Rwanda film biz". Variety.
  16. ^ Kay, Jeremy (February 10, 2020). "Why Lee Isaac Chung almost quit filmmaking before directing 'Minari'". Screen Daily. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  17. ^ Dela Paz, Maggie (July 21, 2021). "Director Lee Isaac Chung Exits Paramount's Live-Action Your Name Movie". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  18. ^ McNary, Dave (December 18, 2020). "MGM and Brad Pitt's Plan B Team Up for Films With 'Minari,' 'Bad Education' Directors". Variety. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  19. ^ Vlessing, Etan (December 15, 2022). "Lee Isaac Chung in Talks to Direct 'Twisters' Sequel". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2022.
  20. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (December 20, 2022). "'Twister' Sequel Sets Summer 2024 Release Date". Variety. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
  21. ^ "Glen Powell To Star Opposite Daisy Edgar-Jones In 'Twister' Sequel For Universal & Amblin Entertainment". Deadline. April 14, 2023.
  22. ^ Couch, Aaron (January 16, 2023). "'The Mandalorian' Reveals Season 3 Trailer, New Directors". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 17, 2023. Retrieved January 17, 2023.
  23. ^ Hipes, Patrick (February 1, 2020). "Sundance Film Festival Awards: 'Minari' Scores Double Top Honors – The Complete Winners List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "Golden Globes: Winners & Nominees". February 28, 2021. Archived from the original on March 1, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  25. ^ "National Board of Review Names 'Da 5 Bloods' Best Picture, Spike Lee Becomes Second Black Director Winner". Los Angeles Times. January 26, 2021. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  26. ^ "'Minari,' 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' Top 2021 Independent Spirit Award Nominations". January 26, 2021. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  27. ^ "2020 San Diego Film Critics Society Award Winners". San Diego Film Critics Society. January 11, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  28. ^ Davis, Clayton (February 8, 2021). "Critics Choice Awards: 'Mank' Leads With 12 Nominations, Netflix Makes History With Four Best Picture Nominees". Variety. Retrieved February 8, 2021.
  29. ^ Pedersen, Erik (March 9, 2021). "DGA Awards Film Nominations: 'Nomadland', 'Minari', 'Mank', 'Chicago 7' & 'Promising Young Woman' Helmers Vie For Top Prize". Deadline. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  30. ^ "The 2020 Detroit Film Critics Society Awards". Detroit Film Critics Society. Archived from the original on July 16, 2019. Retrieved May 17, 2021.

External links[edit]