FILM— SOON- MI YOO

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Paul Dal­las

In her new film, Songs From the North, Soon-Mi Yoo mines the land of mem­ory, and the dor­mant con­flicts and sor­rows that bind the peo­ple of North and South Korea.

Two fig­ures dan­gle from a float­ing ring, their bod­ies en­twined against a black void, their sil­hou­ettes mul­ti­plied by spot­lights. Mu­sic swells on a loud­speaker, and the hand­held cam­era zooms in un­cer­tainly. One fig­ure clings to the other’s out­stretched arm, and just as the body plum­mets, the scene cuts away.

We wit­ness the per­for­mance at a dis­tance and with­out con­text, mak­ing the open­ing mo­ments of Soon-Mi Yoo’s Songs From The North all the more dis­ori­ent­ing. Later, we find our­selves ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an in­verse per­spec­tive—peer­ing down from high above an amuse­ment park at night. The fixed cam­era be­gins to quake, and sud­denly we re­al­ize that the per­son hold­ing the cam­era is not on solid ground, but on a ride that is about to plunge down­ward.

This ten­sion be­tween air and ground, be­tween dis­tance and prox­im­ity, is a pre­vail­ing mo­tif in Yoo’s pow­er­ful doc­u­men­tary por­trait of North Korea. An as­sem­blage of archival ma­te­rial and per­sonal video, Yoo’s film ex­am­ines the legacy of po­lit­i­cal history as re­fracted through a poetic lens, and of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing tour through the na­tion’s phys­i­cal and psy­chic ge­og­ra­phy. Save for brief in­ter-ti­tles, Yoo es­chews com­men­tary, and al­lows footage to speak for it­self. Her col­lage in­ter­weaves state-sanc­tioned news­casts, film clips, na­tional spec­ta­cles, and war footage into a se­ries of un­canny cross-his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions. At times, it feels as if it’s work­ing on a near-sub­lim­i­nal level. The hand­held video of the aerial ac­ro­bat­ics rhymes, ret­ro­spec­tively, with archival footage of another, very dif­fer­ent, aerial per­for­mance we wit­ness later in the film—namely, US air­craft bomb­ing North Korea.

The footage shot by the di­rec­tor dur­ing sev­eral trips to North Korea is per­haps the film’s most af­fect­ing im­agery. It cap­tures what life there ac­tu­ally feels like to­day, its emo­tional tex­tures. We see peo­ple play­ing pool, hang­ing out in a mall. There are glimpses of poverty and mil­i­ta­riza­tion. But Yoo doesn’t high­light the dis­crep­an­cies be­tween the lives of pri­vate cit­i­zens and its im­age as ex­pressed in the gov­ern­ment’s hal­lu­ci­na­tory spec­ta­cles and hy­per­bolic nar­ra­tives. Rather, she is con­cerned with the way per­sonal mem­ory and col­lec­tive history con­tin­u­ally over­lap. What does it mean to con­front the past on a daily ba­sis? The film’s poignant sound­track of na­tional songs—“Ariyang,” “Nos­tal­gia,” and “Where Are You, Dear Gen­eral?” to name a few—be­comes the tis­sue con­nect­ing not only past and present, but in­sider and out­sider. By the end, it’s clear that Yoo has pro­duced a mu­si­cal com­po­si­tion of her own, at once ex­pan­sive and deeply per­sonal.

— Paul Dal­las PAUL DAL­LAS: I haven’t seen your ear­lier short films, but I won­dered if Songs From The North de­vel­oped out of them, or if it marks a new di­rec­tion?

SOON- MI YOO: It was only af­ter fin­ish­ing Songs that I re­al­ized how much the film is a con­tin­u­a­tion of my ear­lier work.

PD: The short films were also about North Korea?

SY: They ad­dress the Korean penin­sula, its history and con­flicts; South Korea’s in­volve­ment in the Viet­nam War, for ex­am­ple.

PD: Did you study film­mak­ing?

SY: I stud­ied Ger­man Literature in Seoul and then I took film­mak­ing classes while liv­ing in Seat­tle. I was ac­tu­ally first in­ter­ested in nar­ra­tive film­mak­ing and stud­ied screen­writ­ing be­cause I was con­cerned with struc­ture. How­ever, I was im­pa­tient with the rigid for­mu­las and struc­tures that de­fined most nar­ra­tive films. I had dif­fer­ent ideas, es­pe­cially about char­ac­ters, but didn’t know how to ex­press them. Af­ter di­rect­ing a nar­ra­tive short I had a per­sonal cri­sis and de­cided to quit film­mak­ing to take up pho­tog­ra­phy.

PD: Be­cause the sat­is­fac­tion with still pho­tog­ra­phy is more im­me­di­ate?

SY: Ex­actly. I thought still pho­tog­ra­phy would give me more free­dom, ar­tis­ti­cally, from the whole larger ap­pa­ra­tus of film pro­duc­tion. And so I com­pleted an MFA in pho­tog­ra­phy at the Mas­sachusetts Col­lege of Art, where I now teach. MassArt has a very strong ex­per­i­men­tal film tra­di­tion.

I have al­ways had a strong in­ter­est in doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing but was frus­trated with the for­mal con­straints of the kinds of three- act-sto­ry­telling typ­i­cally used. My films up to Songs are all at­tempts to find a form to fit what I was in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing. As in my short films, Songs en­gages a core of is­sues or ques­tions that I ex­plore from var­i­ous an­gles. I use found footage and archival im­agery but in a dif­fer­ent man­ner from many ex­per­i­men­tal film­mak­ers who are per­haps more in­ter­ested in the for­mal, phys­i­cal qual­i­ties of the film, its grain and tex­ture.

While I am very in­ter­ested in the ma­te­ri­al­ity of the archival footage that I use, I am­more con­cerned with what is con­tained within the im­age, what is be­ing rep­re­sented, doc­u­mented. An­dré Bazin’s idea of the “fin­ger­print of re­al­ity” res­onates with me. It’s al­most a nat­u­ral in­stinct, even in the age of Pho­to­shop, to want to be­lieve in and trust the im­age, even when we know that it could be fake. This belief is very in­ter­est­ing to me. Look­ing at his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments or films, the fact that they ex­ist, and that the peo­ple in them once ex­isted and are now no more—this means a lot to me. This present mo­ment is fleet­ing; it dis­ap­pears as soon as we turn around. And yet the past some­how lingers in the im­ages that re­main. North Kore­ans un­der­stand this, although in a bizarre way. I went to the Won­san Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Mu­seum where we were not al­lowed to film; I think it’s be­cause they knew it might be too bizarre for Western­ers.

PD: Was it re­ally ex­treme?

SY: It’s ex­treme in the sense that it’s a gi­gan­tic space—a huge three- story

build­ing that’s de­voted to the Great Leader (Kim Il Sung) and his son, Dear Leader (Kim Jong Il). It con­tained things that they had said and ob­jects they came in con­tact with. For in­stance, there’s a plas­tic bucket dis­played in a glass case be­cause the Dear Leader had looked at it! I do be­lieve, how­ever, that there is a cer­tain kind of il­lu­mi­na­tion that hap­pens when you look at some­thing and re­ally pay close at­ten­tion. It ex­ists in time, but it can also go be­yond time. I un­der­stand Wal­ter Ben­jamin’s his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion in that sense. What he calls “Jet­ztzeit” or “now-time.” For a long time I didn’t un­der­stand what that meant.

PD: In a sense, your filmis about how history is made con­tin­u­ally present. Kim Il Sung was in power for forty- six years, from 1948 to his death in 1994, and you show us how he re­mains a daily pres­ence in the lives and minds of North Kore­ans.

SY: While I was work­ing on Songs, I be­gan to un­der­stand that Ben­jamin was speak­ing of his­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion as be­ing able to go back to a mo­ment in history and some­how “own” that mo­ment. In­stead of look­ing at it as some­thing in the past, to see it as some­thing in the present. You could see it as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary pos­si­bil­ity—a dif­fer­ent fu­ture in the po­ten­tial of the mo­ment. Well, most of the time, if you look at history, it didn’t turn out very well. ( laugh­ter) His­tor­i­cal imag­i­na­tion has to do with that kind of em­pa­thetic pro­jec­tion of the mo­ment, whether it’s present or past. And you ac­knowl­edge the po­ten­tial of that mo­ment in­stead of just ac­cept­ing it as in­evitable. When you look at history in a Ben­jaminian way, you try to own the mo­ment and imag­ine how it could be dif­fer­ent. So that’s what I was try­ing to think about, the pos­si­bil­ity of a dif­fer­ent re­al­ity.

PD: Songs com­bines tra­di­tional, archival film footage with online videos you dis­cov­ered. We’re at an in­ter­est­ing mo­ment. The dig­i­tal age has ren­dered film a dis­em­bod­ied medium. This raises cer­tain ex­is­ten­tial ques­tions for doc­u­men­tary prac­tice. But we also now have ac­cess to footage we might never have seen oth­er­wise. One by-prod­uct of the remix age is that “found footage” has be­come an in­creas­ingly du­bi­ous term. Your film is the prod­uct of a great deal of re­search. What was the process like for you?

SY: For ex­am­ple there was the blackand-white footage of a bombed out church dur­ing the Korean War. It was an ac­tual film shot by an Amer­ica mil­i­tary pho­tog­ra­pher who had a great eye. You see the clap­board, and there are peo­ple pick­ing up de­bris, two women are look­ing up. See­ing it for the first time blew me away, it was beau­ti­ful.

PD: There’s a history of mil­i­tary cam­era­men be­com­ing Look pho­tog­ra­phers. Where did you find the footage?

SY: In the Na­tional Ar­chives. Amer­i­cans are very good at doc­u­ment­ing their war ac­tiv­i­ties. I was work­ing on a pro­ject on army “mas­cots”—Korean or­phans Amer­i­can sol­diers took in dur­ing the Korean War. They wore lit­tle minia­ture army uni­forms, and they were like pets to the sol­diers. They re­ally were called mas­cots.

PD: Was this a benev­o­lent ac­tiv­ity?

SY: I think most of the time, yes. There were a hun­dred thou­sand or­phans roam­ing around Korea dur­ing the war, and they were des­per­ate, so I think they were taken care of by the Amer­i­can sol­diers. It’s a very in­ter­est­ing story. I am sure the sol­diers meant well, but at the same time, it is bizarre, hu­man be­ings liv­ing like pets.

In any case, I dis­cov­ered this 35mm print of the peo­ple pick­ing up de­bris in a bombed out church in Won­san, Korea. A ter­ri­ble and beau­ti­ful im­age. It stayed with me, and I spent a long time try­ing to un­der­stand how I could use it in my work. I dis­cov­ered other footage through my re­search—peo­ple car­ry­ing rocks over steep hills or pulling a truck up a moun­tain by hand and with ropes, fall­ing in the snow—I was just amazed by the im­ages. They stuck to me.

PD: This raises an im­por­tant ques­tion. Songs From The North is a highly per­sonal film that doc­u­ments your en­coun­ters with North Korea. As an artist, how do you po­si­tion your­self in re­la­tion to his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial? How do you find your way in?

SY: My work is all in first- per­son. But this I is not just show­ing you my pri­vate I, it’s also a poetic I. Like the I you en­counter when read­ing po­etry, which is the poet him­self or her­self, but it’s be­yond that per­son also. In my pre­vi­ous work, even when I used nar­ra­tion, it was writ­ten and read. It was im­por­tant to me that text was there in­stead of ca­su­ally ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence. All the ma­te­rial that I in­clude is fil­tered or seen through or pos­sessed by the poetic I.

PD: And then there’s the re­la­tion­ship be­tween col­lec­tive and in­di­vid­ual history. Each archival mo­ment is an en­counter with col­lec­tive history, and it is re­pro­cessed and given a dif­fer­ent con­text through this poetic I. Did you use ar­chives in South Korea or North Korea?

SY: There are ar­chives in South Korea but I haven’t had a lot of luck iden­ti­fy­ing ma­te­rial I could use. I couldn’t ac­cess any North Korean archive ex­cept for the ma­te­rial avail­able online. Again, all the archival footage on the Korean War came from the US Na­tional Ar­chives. A lot of the war footage I saw at the Na­tional Archive was of bomb­ing and straf­ing. It’s ter­ri­ble and fright­en­ing, but then af­ter awhile it be­came numb­ing. And then I started to no­tice that just as the bomber dove to de­stroy his tar­get and pulled up sud­denly, in that move­ment there ap­peared a haunting land­scape, cap­tured ac­ci­den­tally for just a few sec­onds.

When I first went to North Korea in 2010, I felt that I’d seen the land­scape be­fore, as if I’d been there be­fore. I thought it was be­cause I was Korean, but then I re­al­ized that I had seen it in the US bomb­ing footage at the Na­tional Ar­chives! It was a strange, un­canny feel­ing. Most of my texts came out of that kind of re­al­iza­tion, or at least I tried to stay true to my ex­pe­ri­ence and mem­ory. I also at­tempt to con­vey the min­i­mum in­for­ma­tion needed if you don’t know any­thing about Korea or the war. For out­siders, it’s very dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand.

PD: North Korea is typ­i­cally car­i­ca­tured by Western media, which has a de­hu­man­iz­ing ef­fect. What makes Songs so unique are your in­ti­mate en­coun­ters with the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live there. Since you had guides di­rect­ing you, were you ever tempted to use a hid­den cam­era? To pho­to­graph some­thing that you weren’t sup­posed to?

SY: I was never tempted to use a hid­den cam­era. It’s not pos­si­ble and, also, my in­ten­tion was not to try to re­veal any­thing “se­cret.” We know that poverty and dic­ta­tor­ship ex­ist in North Korea. But then maybe that is all we know about North Korea. And it is vis­i­ble in the film. It doesn’t have to be re­vealed by a hid­den cam­era.

On my first trip, it was mi­nus twen­tysix de­grees. You couldn’t go out­side and when you did, the wind would just knock you down. Peo­ple were walk­ing with oxen carts, stand­ing on ice, look­ing for who knows what. And this im­age of North Korea in the win­ter stayed with me even though the two other trips I made were in the sum­mer. The way North Kore­ans use win­ter and snow as a metaphor for their harsh con­di­tions be­gan to make sense af­ter my first visit.

PD: Can you talk about the scene with the man at the me­mo­rial site? It’s an un­com­fort­able and am­bigu­ous mo­ment in the film. You ask him why he is cry­ing and he clearly wants you to put the cam­era down, but you con­tinue to shoot.

SY: This wasmy third trip and I went in a tour group with Amer­i­can pro­fes­sors. Mr. Kang was the North Korean cam­era­man for the group. He was cu­ri­ous about my cam­era, so we got to talk shop a bit. Be­cause I spoke Korean, it was a kind of a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. When we got to this site, there was a lot of ac­tiv­ity. You see tour groups in the back­ground. There was a group of women singing and some­one was play­ing a vi­o­lin. So I’m try­ing to cap­ture all this and Mr. Kang asked me, “Do you know this song?” I didn’t. He said it was “Sa Hyang Ga” writ­ten by the Great Leader. In Korean, it’s “Song of Miss­ing Home” or “Think­ing of Home.” The way they trans­late it into English is “Nos­tal­gia.” He was telling me how the Great Leader wrote the song long­ing for Mangy­ong­dae, his home. And I asked him, jok­ing a lit­tle bit, if he would sing it for me and I turned my cam­era onto him. He wouldn’t sing it, but he was hum­ming the song and I could see him tear­ing up, so I just stayed with him. It was one of the rare, rare mo­ments in North Korea that you could ac­tu­ally get gen­uine emo­tions. He tried to break away from me but I fol­lowed him.

PD: It’s a mo­ment of ten­sion, of sus­pen­sion. As a viewer, you’re wait­ing for an erup­tion or fis­sure of some kind. You were in­ter­ested in how much he would give you.

SY: Ex­actly. Usu­ally they just turn away.

PD: If he re­ally wanted to he could have just walked away, I sup­pose.

SY: That’s right. North Kore­ans gen­er­ally are kind and gen­tle, con­trary to widely held be­liefs. When you en­counter them in per­son, they are mod­est and shy. And they are very pri­vate, so they do not re­veal their emo­tions to out­siders very easily. When I asked Mr. Kang whether he missed the Great Leader— this was kind of a provo­ca­tion—he gen­tly walked away from my frame. I stopped, be­cause I didn’t want to be too rude. I think I wanted to push, and then maybe a lit­tle bit more. But one has to know when it’s enough.

PD: It was a mo­ment that res­onated for me—this mix­ture of nos­tal­gia, pride, and pa­tri­o­tism. Your fa­ther, whom you also in­ter­view in the film, talks about the his­tor­i­cal roots of North Korea’s na­tion­al­ism.

SY: Ev­ery cul­ture or na­tion uses na­tion­al­ism to con­sol­i­date its power. As my fa­ther said, they ac­tu­ally aban­doned the fun­da­men­tal Com­mu­nist doc­trine. They dropped Marx­ism- Lenin­ism from their con­sti­tu­tion in fa­vor of KimIl- Sungism in the ’80s, I be­lieve. Part of this na­tion­al­is­tic fer­vor comes from the Kim gen­er­a­tion’s own ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing the colo­nial pe­riod. Kim Il Sung and his anti- Ja­panese gueril­las be­longed to the Chi­nese com­mu­nist re­bel­lion against the Ja­panese. But Mao Tse­tung sus­pected Korean com­mu­nists of be­ing pro- Ja­panese in­fil­tra­tors or spies—be­cause, you know, Korea was a Ja­panese colony. A lot of the Korean com­mu­nists got purged by the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party and killed. Even Kim Il Sung was ar­rested and was about to be ex­e­cuted, and only when a Chi­nese gen­eral vouched for him, be­cause Kim Il Sung saved his life, did he get off. Older North Kore­ans never for­got this les­son.

The Ja­panese put out these mas­sive puni­tive ex­pe­di­tions to cap­ture Kim Il Sung and his fight­ers and placed a huge amount of money on his head, be­cause at the time, he was feared by the Ja­panese while revered by the Kore­ans as a kind of sav­ior. Ja­panese col­o­niza­tion was very bru­tal. Ja­pan laid siege on the ar­eas where Kim Il Sung’s fight­ers were. It was win­ter and very cold and most of the par­ti­sans per­ished. Kim Il Sung and four hun­dred oth­ers man­aged to es­cape to the Rus­sian bor­der and this jour­ney is the orig­i­nal “Ar­du­ous March.”

This is a very fa­mous story that is in­grained in North Korean cul­ture. When the famine hap­pened in the 1990s, they called it the “Sec­ond Ar­du­ous March.” The lessons that Kim Il Sung and his col­leagues learned, they never for­got. It is in their bone mar­row, as they say. In the top ech­e­lon of Kim Il Sung’s regime, most had ex­pe­ri­enced their fam­ily mem­bers starv­ing to death or be­ing killed by the Ja­panese. A lot of them didn’t even grow up to their full height be­cause of malnutrition. This is where they’re com­ing from; they are for­ever re­fer­ring to their par­ti­san ex­pe­ri­ence. And so na­tion­al­ism—

PD: —took over—

SY: —ev­ery­thing. “Our coun­try, our peo­ple” pre­cedes ev­ery­thing. Kim Il Sung’s gov­ern­ing idea, Juche, which is of­ten trans­lated as “self- re­liance,” stems di­rectly from that ex­pe­ri­ence. Even though it was dis­as­trous for the coun­try as an eco­nomic prin­ci­ple and gov­ern­ing idea, psy­cho­log­i­cally it ap­pealed to peo­ple.

PD: It’s a sur­real history to con­tend with.

SY: It is. It all goes back to what hap­pened eighty years ago; they still hold onto it.

PD: I want to ask about the ex­tra­or­di­nary footage of the chil­dren’s

It’s al­most a nat­u­ral in­stinct, even in the age of Pho­to­shop, to want to be­lieve in and trust the im­age, even when we know that it could be fake.

per­for­mance, which we see later in the film. On­stage, in front of thou­sands, a boy of ten or eleven re­counts an ex­tended con­fes­sion and then tells how he was res­cued by the Leader. It cul­mi­nates in a col­lec­tive parox­ysm of tears and singing. Through­out, the cam­era cuts away to the au­di­ence, dressed in for­mal at­tire, also weep­ing. It’s un­for­get­tably strange. I couldn’t fig­ure out when it oc­curred. Was this footage from thirty years ago?

SY: The chil­dren’s per­for­mance is from a 2013 New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion. I first heard about the boy’s con­fes­sion from a list­serv on North Korea. I went to YouTube to see it, and I dis­cov­ered that there was more to it. I agree it is very puz­zling be­cause you don’t know what’s go­ing on.

PD: Ini­tially, I found it im­pos­si­ble to dis­cern whether I was watch­ing some­thing spon­ta­neous or scripted. Of course, as the drama reaches an al­most sur­real crescendo, it’s clear that there’s se­ri­ous stage man­age­ment hap­pen­ing.

SY: It’s all scripted, of course. What I dis­cov­ered was that ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence was cry­ing, not be­cause of what the boy was telling on stage— which was an in­com­plete story—but the public al­ready knew the back­story. The clip came with a writ­ten nar­ra­tive, in Korean, about how he’d lost his par­ents—his fa­ther went to jail, his mother had a ter­mi­nal ill­ness—and be­came an or­phan. In Korea, be­ing an or­phan is the worst fate. Fam­ily is the most im­por­tant thing. With­out your par­ents to pro­tect, guide, and nur­ture you, you’re con­sid­ered noth­ing. Be­ing an or­phan, but saved, pro­tected, and guarded by the Dear Mar­shal is the same nar­ra­tive as Kim Il Sung tak­ing care of the or­phans dur­ing and af­ter his anti- Ja­panese guerilla days. The chil­dren had lost their par­ents—the Ja­panese killed them all— and Kim Il Sung sup­pos­edly took care of them, tried to feed them, and car­ried them dur­ing the Ar­du­ous March.

PD: This pa­tri­ar­chal metaphor is wo­ven into the so­cial fab­ric.

SY: Kim Il Sung es­tab­lished the Mangy­ong­dae Rev­o­lu­tion­ary School to ed­u­cate the or­phans of the anti- Ja­panese guerilla fight­ers and they be­came the core de­fend­ers of the regime. In Songs, you see Kim Jong Il with a group of boys in mil­i­tary uni­form when he vis­ited the school. This adopted par­ent­hood is what the boy was still talk­ing about in 2013: “You are my true fa­ther. My fa­ther and mother didn’t do any­thing for me, but you ac­tu­ally took care of me and I’m well be­cause of you.”

PD: Was he in fact be­ing cared for by a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial?

SY: We don’t know. He was prob­a­bly at­tend­ing some school, like Mangy­ong­dae Rev­o­lu­tion­ary School, with a dorm.

PD: His class­mates also be­gin weep­ing with him, and the tears are au­then­tic. It’s un­like any per­for­mance I’ve ever wit­nessed.

SY: It’s a mys­tery. When I watched the two- hour New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion per­for­mance, I dis­cov­ered other things—like how they looked at them­selves as a kind of dis­tant star or a beau­ti­ful planet. The per­for­mance went on, chil­dren started singing, and cry­ing, their voices break­ing. The emo­tions—it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be moved by that and some­how feel for them. And then, at the same time, you are out­raged by how these lit­tle chil­dren can be—

PD: —in­doc­tri­nated—

SY: —and do this kind of thing. You do feel for them, but at the same time, it’s just so bizarre. I felt this a lot while work­ing on this film.

PD: Where did you get that film clip?

SY: Online. North Kore­ans are very good, nowa­days, at pub­li­ciz­ing their ma­te­rial. They have their own YouTube chan­nels and online pres­ence. Be­cause I un­der­stand Korean, it’s easy for me. I’ve watched this par­tic­u­lar clip a thou­sand times, but I still—ev­ery time it messes me up.

PD: Tell me about in­ter­view­ing your fa­ther. He gives some pretty in­ti­mate and can­did re­flec­tions. Have you had con­ver­sa­tions with him about the past be­fore?

SY: Of course, this is not new. And I have asked him to tell me sto­ries on cam­era be­fore be­cause I want to docu-ment my own fa­ther. Grow­ing up in South Korea, it’s the kind of story that I’ve been hear­ing all my life. My fa­ther al­ways said that all his friends who were smart went North—the ones who were ide­al­is­tic, or am­bi­tious, or be­lieved in a new so­ci­ety.

PD: And there wasn’t a mi­gra­tion back af­ter they dis­cov­ered that it wasn’t what they thought it would be?

SY: You couldn’t come back down. Ini­tially, the bor­der was kind of por­ous and peo­ple moved about, but once it was sta­bi­lized, you couldn’t travel easily across the bor­der.

PD: That was when the demil­i­ta­rized zone was cre­ated?

SY: Yes. Once they had a ceasefire, the bor­der was sealed. There were 100,000 sep­a­rated fam­i­lies in South Korea alone. They had fam­ily left in the north, and they’ve had no con­tact since 1953!

PD: It’s like a time capsule. Have you shown the film to your fa­ther?

SY: I told him that his in­ter­view was in the film. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, films about the North are still com­pletely banned in the South. I have been told that Songs might not be al­lowed to be shown in South Korea.

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