Sunday, April 17, 2011

North Korean defectors highlighted in "The Journals of Musan"

A young man climbs a dusty, narrow staircase toward a job interview. A kindly police officer walking ahead of him looks back and says, "Don't tell him you're from North Korea, OK?"

The telling scene comes early in "The Journals of Musan," a dark and brooding South Korean movie that has won international acclaim for its portrayal of the struggles faced by refugees from North Korea in the capitalist - and, as depicted in the film, often heartless - South. The movie opened in Seoul last week.

Raised in an impoverished totalitarian state, many North Koreans lack the education, financial resources and personal connections to compete in South Korea, one of Asia's richest countries. In turn, they complain of discrimination in the job market.

Park Jung-bum, the 36-year-old director of "The Journals of Musan," is part of a young generation of filmmakers inspired by their plight. The movie is loosely based on the experience of his late friend, Chun Seung-chul, who came from the North in 2002 and died of stomach cancer a few years later. Park also incorporated stories about other North Koreans he knows into the main character.

"My big question was this: They came here to be happy, but if they have to stay in the bottom class in South Korea, was there any meaning for them to come all the way here?" he said in an interview.

Film critic Park Yoo-hee, a research professor at Korea University, described movies such as "The Journals of Musan" as a turning point in how filmmakers approach North Korea. The escapees are now seen as an internal South Korean issue, rather than fantasized characters from someplace far removed.

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