A film by Helen Lee

Canada/Korea | 2000 | 22 minutes | Color | 35mm/DVD | Order No. 01721


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


  • Toronto International Film Festival
  • WYBE Through the Lens Series
  • Feminale Women's Film Festival, Cologne, Germany


Helen Lee

Helen Lee is an independent filmmaker based in Toronto and Seoul whose narrative and experimental films explore intersectionalities of place, identity and sexuality. Her works address diasporic gendered subjectivities in cinema, encompassing feminist and transnational perspectives. SALLY’S BEAUTY SPOT (1990) is her first film and is widely taught in Asian American, Film, and Gender and Women’s Studies programs.

Helen is a graduate of University of Toronto (BA), New York University (MA), Whitney Independent Study Program, Canadian Film Centre’s Director Resident Program, and York University (MFA). She has taught screenwriting and directing at Queen’s University, Korea National University of Arts, Yonsei University and OCAD University. She is a member of the Directors Guild of Canada and Writers Guild of Canada.

Published articles include: "A Peculiar Sensation: A Personal Genealogy of Korean American Women’s Cinema," published in Dangerous Women: Gender and Korean Nationalism (Routledge), excerpted in Cineaste and reprinted in Screening Asian Americans (Rutgers University Press); and a conversation with Celine Parreñas Shimizu, entitled "Sex Acts: Two Meditations on Race and Sexuality," appears in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

Selected Filmography: PARIS TO PYONGYANG (2023), INTO SUCH ASSEMBLY (2019), HERS AT LAST (2008), THE ART OF WOO (2001, feature film), SUBROSA (2000), PREY (1995), MY NIAGARA (1992), SALLY’S BEAUTY SPOT (1990). Her films are distributed by Women Make Movies (US), Arsenal (Germany), Indiestory (Korea), CFMDC and CFC Features (Canada). (04/22)


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