Riding Han Film: A GDMBR Journey of Healing

In 2021, Pak Eugene set out with his younger brother and childhood friend to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Frustrated by a lack of storytelling and content he could resonate with, he decided to make his own film. Below, he shares the film Riding Han, along with a full image gallery and narrative about the trip…


January 6 Circa MMXXI

I gazed up at my computer, another day of virtually teaching the U.S. government in the Sonoran Desert. As most mornings, I queued up my daily news with caffeinated veins, preparing to share what’s going on in the world with my students. But on this particular day, the headlines screamed Capitol Hill Insurrection. As the kids would have said then, I was shooketh. Like what the hell am I supposed to say during a revolution of the Nation’s Capital?

Over the next hour, I drafted my resignation letter. Teaching was supposed to be my escape from my dissatisfaction with the outdoor industry and I picked a TERRIBLE time to start. Luckily, 2021 was a year I’ve been looking forward to since 2015, to ride The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with my 17-year-old brother.

Six years ago, I decided not to embark on my 2-year bicycle journey from Europe to Asia as life had other plans. Instead, I told my then 12-year-old brother, “When I turn 30 we’re gonna go on an epic bike trip.” I Didn’t know a global pandemic would be an obstacle.

With any big trip, planning our upcoming trip came with gear choices, logistics, and purchases while telling my inner child that all would be okay. But after watching videos of The Divide I became more and more dissatisfied with what I saw. None of the films or videos I saw were relatable.

Ultra-endurance racers, nope. Highlight reels or vlogs. Meh, pass. Where are the stories of normal and/or marginalized bike riders not of influencers and athletes?

I knew that this was going to be a special trip with my little brother and I wanted to memorialize it. But my constant disappointment in this content craze turned into a perpetual obsession. I’ve ignored my creative ambitions for over a decade, the last film I worked on was in 2009 as a high school student. So, embracing my naivete and my factotum tendencies, I decided to make a film as well. I didn’t know shit about filmmaking. And so a parallel journey began, how can I tell a story that I wanted to see?

February 27 Circa MMXXIII

It’s been almost two years since I rode The Great Divide with my 17-year-old brother and childhood friend. I just finished editing my film, Riding Han (​​한), last week, and finally I feel like enough time has passed to uncover the roots of why I decided to make a film about our journey.

While the pandemic was/is the traumatic fissure of the generation, for many Asians around the world, it was a different experience for us. All fingers were pointed at us, especially those who have immigrated to other Western countries. We were the cause of this, of everything that’s happening, we are responsible for the virus. Our elders were beaten and our communities were targeted. It felt like every other day someone of Asian descent was getting harassed or beaten in America. Two of which were family members.

Not that this is out of the norm. The threads of Western history have always stigmatized us while blowing the hell out of our countries disguised as an act of freedom.

For many Asian Americans, a point of existentialism was the 2021 Atlanta shootings. I was sitting at my place in Tucson, Arizona, lonely and in a brand new city where I didn’t know a single soul. No hand to grab, or process my spiraling grief from this traumatic event. I remember immediately Googling the location of the Korean spa. 15 minutes.

15 minutes from my parents’ house.

I broke.

Alone in the desert, I rode my bike.

My pandemic experience was already full of microaggressions, verbal confrontations, and physical threats. Was I supposed to not go on the Great Divide because of the pandemic, the global xenophobia, the fear? My parents tried talking me out of going on this trip for safety reasons, especially after the Atlanta shootings. But there was this unshakable belief in me that everything would be fine. My confidence was rooted in this subjective Korean concept of “Han” (한).

Here’s What Han Means to Me:

“Han is an inherent, undefinable, and complex part of being Korean. It is internalized/unresolved collective grief, resentment and rage created by deep intergenerational trauma and oppression. Han manifests itself in the human experience of adversity through emotion, expression, and creation.”

The closest English word I’ve come across is melancholia, a sense of endless mourning. The dark history of Korea has been full of extremes, its sorrowful melody reverberates to the present day. A war labeled by the West as the “Forgotten War,” which to the Korean people couldn’t be less true. And a nation still divided by imperial forces on the 38th since the 50’s. This “Han” (한) is the result of the Koreas’ past traumas and present-day successes.

I thought my film was about me trying to figure out my journey as a Korean American, of what “Han” (한) meant to me. But in actuality creating this film was my therapy, a visual love letter to myself, my family, Asian Americans, and anyone who’s willing to listen. I choose to use my Han to create.

This film consumed my life and soul for the past year and a half. It was my first deep dive into the creative process as a filmmaker. Its inception was manifested from grief, trauma, depression, and of course Han (한). It got me through the toughest time of the pandemic. Whenever I felt lost, I turned to my film and lost myself in the edit for hours. It consumed and revitalized my soul but most importantly it gave me direction and a purpose.

So, Why Did I Make This Film?

I just wanted a story of normal people on a journey trying to heal. It just happened to be on bicycles,

Directed & Edited by (박) Pak, Eugene
Cinematography by (영) Young Mazino & (박) Pak, Eugene