I first met Andrew in 2000 as he was serving the 6th year of his 100-year prison term. A friend of mine had developed a pen-pal relationship with him over the last year and decided that she wanted to meet him in person. It was her first visit to a prison, and because she didn’t want to go alone, I accompanied her.
Perhaps it was the nervousness of being in a completely different environment, our wide-eyed naiveté, or a combination of both, but we were astonished by the man who we would meet. Andrew was charming, funny, articulate, and incredibly intelligent. Yet, he was also a man with the capacity to wait 4 hours with a loaded gun, and shoot another person with the intention of killing him. Despite the weight of the latter, it was the former persona that left an indelible impression. As a friendship developed over the years, I came to know his story well.
When the case of Andrew and Catherine Suh broke in the early 90’s, it captured a national audience by receiving coverage on America’s Most Wanted, Psychic Detectives, and was even dramatized as a made-for-television film, Bad to the Bone. However, in all the various reiterations of this story, two things remained the same: Catherine was cast as the protagonist—an eccentric, evil, manipulative sister—while Andrew was the loyal, model student coerced into committing murder. While superficially these elements did hold some truth, the sensational crime story missed what was really at the core of this tragic family story. As a Korean-American, it was a story that struck a personal chord with me, and I wanted to give it a comprehensive treatment that the other media coverage seemed to painfully lack.
After college, I had been working in Los Angeles. But in the winter of 2005, I relocated to Chicago, and with Andrew’s blessing, began filming what would become The House of Suh. My intention was to shoot for three months, take the footage back to Los Angeles for editing, and have a final cut by the end of the year. Four and a half years later, the final edit was made.
When I started the film, I thought I had already learned everything there was to know about Andrew’s story. But as the months and years went on, there always seemed to be another important player to track down and interview, who would then unveil a different side to the story. I was also confronted by the fact that I was no longer just “Iris the friend” to Andrew, but also “Iris the filmmaker”. Making the film became a dynamic process that forced me to juggle my own beliefs and morality. Luckily, my producing team—Gerry Kim, Joseph Lee, and Pawel Grajnert—acted as the counterbalance and gave me the much needed perspective throughout the project.
As the filmmakers behind this project, our goal was to strip away the sensationalism and examine the internal conflicts that broke down the Suh household. Using the Suh story as a framework, larger themes are explored, such as cultural assimilation, traditional family roles and values, the relativity of justice and the deep divide between freedom and responsibility.