about the film:

(interview with director Kelley)


The quest for self-acceptance in a world that demands perfection.

In sixty short years, South Korea went from being one of the poorest countries in Asia to having the world's 11th largest economy. Korean students have some of the highest test scores in the world, and a higher rate of acceptance into American Ivy Leagues than any other foreign nation. But South Korea also has the highest gender pay gap of any developed country, the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita, and one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world.


Surrounded by media and messages that seem to demand nothing less than perfection, how do Korean teenagers learn to love and accept themselves? "Permission to Exist" follows four South Korean students during one of the most stressful times of their lives: their last year of high school. After studying for sometimes sixteen hours each day, their futures boil down to one last exam. On the second Thursday of November, half a million high school seniors will take a nine hour College Entrance Exam that has the power to determine their socio-economic status for the rest of their lives. But as the test looms closer, some of the students begin to question the legitimacy of the exam itself- wondering how much it truly is an accurate measurement of their worth. Do they really need permission from a standardized test to pursue their dreams? Going against the grain is never easy- but proves a necessary growing pain on the path to self-discovery. Sometimes nothing is more shocking than the journey for truth.

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