Tuesday, June 4, 2013

MKC Thought Leaders' Corner: North Korea in South Korean Cinema (May 2013)

North Korea has been in the news a lot lately for its latest round of belligerent actions. Many believe that Western media has been exaggerating the danger the communist state poses to South Korea's national security. I can't say that I've noticed any especial alarm among the local populace yet there's no denying that the oppressive regime casts a long shadow over the country. Cinema is just one of the places where this is readily evident, so this month I asked the experts:

Has Korean cinema's representation of North Korea changed over the years?

If you have any thoughts on the subject, please share them with us! You can leave a comment on this page or start a discussion with us on facebook or twitter.

Many to thanks to all the contributors for their time and insightful comments. Responses listed alphabetically, followed by the thoughts of MKC's teammembers.

Name: Colette Balmain
Occupation: Lecturer; Writer; Film Critic
Location: London, United Kingdom

Representations of North Koreans in South Korean cinema have run the gauntlet from the communist ‘Other’ of early South Korean cinema in the immediate aftermath of the Korean War to the romanticised anti-heroes of Shiri (1999) and JSA (2000) who spearheaded the New Korean Cinema movement of the late 1990s. Such shifts are representative of wider political-economic transformations in South Korean society. The Anti-Communist Act (1948) made it difficult for filmmakers to humanize North Korean characters, while The Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) inaugurated by President Kim Dae-jung, made it almost obligatory to humanize them. This is a trend continued by Ryoo Seung-wan's The Berlin File, whose success suggests that the desire for reconciliation continues to be a theme which resonates with domestic audiences even though contemporary events suggest that reunification is still a long way off. However as Director Jeon Kyu-hwan’s Dance Town (2011), which follows the story of Ri Jeong-rim (Ra Mi-ran), a North Korean defector, demonstrates, the reality of the ideological divide between North and South means that reunification, if it happens, will not be an easy process as a desired return to Oneness can only take place through the suppression of the Other.

Name: Jason Bechervaise
Occupation: Film Reviewer, Screen International
Location: Ilsan, South Korea

No, not massively. In contemporary Korean cinema, North Korea has always been portrayed as isolated and home to one of the most suppressive regimes in the world, but more importantly, there is usually an attachment to North Korean people as illustrated in films such as Shiri, JSA, Secret Reunion (2010) and upcoming film Secretly Greatly where North Koreans in these features often interact with South Koreans on a friendship level, even if its unbeknownst to them. While this friendship cannot always continue, it reflects an attachment by local audiences to North Koreans who are subjected to the brutality and instruction of the north's belligerent regime, which is also evident in this year's The Berlin File.

Name: David Desser
Occupation: Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois, Adjunct Professor of Film and Television, Chapman University
Location: Los Angeles, USA

In the so-called “Golden Age” of Korean cinema anti-communism was a major theme – indeed a thematic encouraged by the repressive regime of Park Chung-hee (1961-1979). The Motion Picture Promotion Corporation (MPPC) was established to enforce the social, political and ideological agenda of the Park government. It did so in a number of ways, from enforcing a quota system, by limiting the number of companies, and by offering prizes and financial incentives to films which demonstrated the political agenda of anti-communism. The Grand Bell Film Awards, established in 1962, even had a specific category for best anti-communist feature. Since anti-communism was a theme and not a genre, it appeared as a transgeneric phenomenon, finding its way into the many modes of Korean cinema of the period, including the stalwart melodrama. Communists were portrayed as cruel, duplicitous, hypocritical – characteristics that carried over in films devoted to the Korean War, the Cold War and into the Vietnam War era. Films of the 1950s had such themes, which were carried over into the 1960s. These are, for the most part, hopelessly simplistic and corny, if occasionally heartfelt and moving. By the 1970s, a bit more psychological depth came into play, even portraying communist sympathies as understandable, if misguided and ultimately repudiated.

It is against this backdrop of official anti-communist content and themes that we should appreciate the image of North Korea in contemporary South Korean cinema. We can make a distinction between the image of North Koreans and portrayals of communism. As in films of the 1960s and 70s, South Koreans could flirt with communism until confronted by the true nature of the North Korean regime and its sympathizers; or the true nature of those who adopt the ideology whole-heartedly regardless of their national origin. A handful of events brought North Koreans into the light of South Korea’s burgeoning cinema of the late 1990s: virtually complete liberalization of film content meant directors could tackle pretty much whatever they wanted; the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea adopted in 1998 and which was the basic stance toward the North until 2008; and the success Korean films were beginning to demonstrate not just in the domestic sphere, but also in the international arena. Thus it is no surprise that Kang Je-gyu’s Shiri took the domestic box-office by storm in 1999. Though the film owes much to the expertly staged action scenes (a la Hong Kong), the melodramatic romance and its dream cast, the fact that the film deals directly with the North Korean threat yet treats its North Korean protagonists with respect and sympathy is no coincidence. The same may be said about JSA (Joint Security Area). Its Rashomon-like structure, top-flight cast and superb craftsmanship combined with its North-South setting along the DMZ allowed the film to surpass Shiri as the top box-office success of all time in Seoul.

I imagine the makers of Last Witness, released in 2001, had visions of blockbuster status for their film about the murder of a North Korean in the present day and the escape of North Korean POWs during the Korean War. Like the previous box-office champs, it boasts a major star cast and like JSA it relies on intriguing flashbacks and an overall mystery structure. By focusing on conditions inside an infamous POW camp, the film is not only sympathetic to the North, but condemnatory of the South – recognizing that war produces more villains than it does heroes (This was the second version of this story, based on a famous novel – the first, in 1980, was subject to governmental censorship amidst the director’s fierce protests). The film’s failure, I suspect, owed to its narrative complexity and murky motivations. Yet it is my favorite of these first big-budget efforts to join mainstream cinema with a new view of North Korea and communism. The end of the Sunshine Policy and the overall situation as regards North Korea’s bellicose military adventurism, while not likely to inspire the kind of knee-jerk anti-communism of the 60s and 70s, is also not likely to produce any great sympathetic images of North Korea in films to follow for the foreseeable future.

Name: Mike Hostench
Occupation: Deputy Director, Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia
Location: Barcelona, Spain

North-Koreans have had two main roles in South-Korean cinema, depending if we are talking genre (mostly war and action) or social drama: the despicable villain; and the outcast, miserable refugee.

My straight answer to Pierce's question about any change in the representation of Northeners in ROK's film productions should be "YES". However, this change has been as sinuous and twisted in time as the borderline that separates both countries. Even more so if we are consider genre:

Since the cinema of directors like Lee Man-hee (The Marines Who Never Came Returned, 1963), and his contemporaries, to blockbusting Kang Je-gyu's Shiri and recent fare such as Jang Hoon's Secret Reunion and Ryoo Seung-wan's The Berlin File, North Koreans have consistently played villains. Nevertheless, in the last 10 years, scriptwriters have tried to create Northern characters whith emotional nuances that makes them more sohisticated and richer than their comrades from the 60's and 70's. Though still playing baddies, winds of "realpolitik" have been contagious, so the soldiers of Juche (such as sleeping cells, spies, combat troops, sailors or politicians), are now characters plagued by tormenting doubt, deep feelings, and even sentimental challenges. Sometimes they can even be in comedies, such as Park Jan-hoon's Spy Girl (2004) and the Jang Jin comedy The Spy (1999).

I would say that there are three turning films/turning points in Korean cinema that prepared audiences for the scenario we are living nowadays, that makes it more acceptable to show North Koreans in a more sympathetic light:
  • Lee Doo-young's The Last Witness (1980) - For the first time North Koreans are not treated as one-dimensional characters. Considering the harsh political times South Korea was experiencing in the early 80s, we can only admire Lee bravery in trying a different approach.
  • Kang Je-gyu's Shiri (1999) - North Korean are still bloodthirsty terrorists, so not much change, but, and a big but here, one can immediately detect grey areas in the minds and behaviors of the usually brainwashed assassins we were used to. Especially Kim Yoon-jin's character, playing a dual role: spy and girl next door, whose love for a nice Southerner threatens to undermine her faith in her mission and the Great Leader.
  • Park Chan-wook's JSA (2000) - The film that made Park known in the West, and the first one that included a North Korean soldier, not only as a protagonist, but also as a likeable figure. The conversations between Song Kang-ho and Lee Byung-hun's characters (the "Communist" and the "Puppet" respectively), are already classic and should be studied by future generations.
On the drama front, gloom, doom and sadness reign. Park Jung-bum's The Journals of Musan (2011) and Jeon Kyo-hwan's Dance Town (2010) are the epitomes of solid (though sometimes slightly exploitative) social cinema dealing with the living hell of Northern refugees. Being a newer trend than their action/war/thriller counterparts, these stories have been legion during the last decade, helping the Southern population to understand better that escaping the North, despite how bad it is, doesn't mean the end of the nightmare.

I couldn't finish without mentioning Na Hong-jin's The Yellow Sea (2010). For the first time, social realism perfectly melts with the action thriller, resulting in one of the best films in recent years, describing also a specific kind of North-Korean refugees, the Joseonjoks. This term defines the North-Koreans living in the Chinese province of Jilin, seldomly represented in South Korea's cinema before.

Name: Kyu Hyun Kim
Occupation: Associate Professor, UC Davis
Location: Berkeley, USA

South Korea has officially been in a state of war with its Northern (supposedly) Communist equivalent since 1953. In South Korea anti-Communism has been one of the most effective ideological tools, deployed time and again by the powers-that-be to consolidate ordinary citizens into a conservative political force and to countermand demands for democracy and greater social justice. Naturally, anti-Communist cinema has remained a powerful subgenre until the advent of New Korean Cinema in late 1990s. The ascendancy of Kim Dae Jung, the respected opposition party leader and pro-democracy activist, to Presidency in 1998 was a watershed for Korean society, as his “Sunshine Policy” consciously sought to herd North Korea toward opening its market and society via soft diplomacy and economic aids. Shiri, which from today’s viewpoint may appear as a typical Cold War thriller, was in fact reflecting this then-monumental shift of policy toward North Korea, wherein North-South peace talks were hoped to lead to a real improvement in their relations, and the melodramatic love could overcome the Cold War divisions.

Fourteen years later, however, North Korea still remains ever-closed and hostile, and its soldiers and agents are still being drafted as token Eastern villains in crummy Hollywood blockbusters. In retrospect, the moment of ethnic-nationalist optimism in which reunification, long a “sacred” objective for many Koreans, looked within reach, was short-lived. It was within this brief period that overt reunification fantasies, both good, such as Welcome to Dongmakgol, and awful, like Spy Girl and Heaven’s Soldiers (2005), had come out. A few examples like Jang Jin’s The Spy and Park Chan-wook’s Joint Security Area managed to explore the issue of North-South relations with maturity, thoughtfulness and appreciation of the realistic gap that separates residents of both countries.

Overall, however, North Korea persists as an adversary and a potential source of conflict and violence to be exploited by South Korean genre cinema. In fact, the kind of Cold War, spies-are-among-us paranoia, now considered a thing of the past in Euro-American films, is very much alive in recent South Korean thrillers such as Jang Hoon’s Secret Reunion and Ryoo Seung-wan’s The Berlin File. The true significant change of attitude may not lie in the way South Korean cinema treats North Korea as an entity but in the way it depicts North Koreans as people with diverse interests and agendas, yet possessing a distinctive culture of their own. Indeed, Northern refuges for practical purposes have become another “ethnic” minority in the strongly ethno-centric South Korean society.

Right now South Korean popular culture, not just cinema, seems rather reluctant to imagine the post-Cold War future of the peninsula, perhaps because the (ethnocentrically) romantic vision of reunification has gone through a series of “reality checks” since the Sunshine Policy. If South Koreans were to reach out to their Northern counterparts as fellow citizens in the future, it would have to be on different terms from those available in romantic-ethnocentric fantasies or in standard anti-Communist thrillers, and I think the majority of them know this already.

Name: Kyung Hyun Kim
Occupation: Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, Director Critical Theory, School of Humanities, University of California, Irvine
Location: Irvine, CA, USA

During the 10-year period (roughly between 1999 and 2008) when Sunshine Policy was South Korea’s prevailing position on North Korea, it was extremely difficult to find films that would be critical of North Korean leadership. We often think that Kang Je-gyu’s Shiri was the last film to rely on an anachronistic Cold War dichotomy to produce a North Korean villain. But you have to remember, even Shiri was careful not to criticize the North Korean leadership. The terrorist ring led by Park Mu-young (Choi Min-shik) in the film was NOT sanctioned by the North Korean leadership as it was a group of disgruntled, renegade warmongers who happened to be North Koreans. They threatened the stability and peace in South Korea by plotting assassination of BOTH South Korean and North Korean leaders. Throughout the era of Sunshine Policy, other blockbuster films such as Kwak Kyung-taek’s Typhoon (2005) follow the same prescribed formula as Shiri’s – but with mixed results. Ryu Seung-wan’s recent The Berlin File, the first true post-Sunshine Policy spy film to come out of South Korea, is a lot bolder in its attempt to criticize North Korean leadership. The actual leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-eun, is not only given his real name in the film, but also is the center of internal corruption that has led to Trotskyite assassinations of innocent diplomats in Berlin still loyal to the Party. Though I don’t think the South Korean film industry will put out films that are just as ideologically distasteful as Hollywood’s total villainous depictions of North Korea such as in Die Another Day (2002), the days when South Korea had a liberal aim to produce North Korea as a different kind of “Other” than the one that earned a place in George W. Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ (something I tried to argue in my “Mea Culpa” chapter in Virtual Hallyu) may be long gone.

Name: Simon McEnteggart
Occupation: Editor, hangukyeonghwa.com
Location: Ilsan, South Korea

The quick answer is yes, and I would point to Shiri, JSA and Welcome to Dongmakol (2005) as the big mainstream examples of the evolution from North Koreans as villains to comrades. However, what fascinates me personally is the representation of North Koreans in the independent scene. As independent Korean cinema has increasingly become more concerned with internal societal/ideological issues, North Koreans have often been conveyed as victims upon reaching the ‘haven’ of the South. Jeon Kyu-hwan’s Dance Town is a great example as Jung-rim, who lived a censored but comfortable life in Pyongyang, suffers greatly in South Korea and *spoilers* is even sexually assaulted by a police officer *end spoilers*.

More recently, Poongsan, directed by Kim Ki-duk protégé Juhn Jai-hong in 2011 told a similar story, in which a woman is abused upon entering the South, admittedly by her older North Korean lover but with Southern cops looking on. I have also heard of a couple of indie projects shooting this year which will explore similar subject material. What is clear through such films is the dissatisfaction with South Korean institutions and the rejection of their ideology, to the point where the North Korean lifestyle is insinuated as ‘better’ for citizens as they experience nothing but hardship upon entering the South. It’s a very interesting time for representations of North Koreans in the independent scene, and I’m excited to see where filmmakers will go next.

Name: David Oxenbridge
Occupation: Film Journalist
Location: Seoul, South Korea

Since the lifting of Korea's harsh censorship laws focused firmly on North Korean cinematic representation in the late 90's, the depiction of North Koreans has flourished. However, it is how they were represented in film that is far more interesting. It seems to me that since 1999 when Shiri first broke all box office records and brought in the era of the 'well made film' the Korean film industry has always been in front of its own government in its efforts to analyze the complex relationship Korea has with its cousins to the north, make amends, put things behind them and in the end, move on.

Since Shiri, South Korean film makers have taken a reconciliatory approach to the subject making films that show the human face of North Korea, the senselessness of the war, the subsequent break-up of the peninsula and the hardships that North Koreans face outside of their country. Shiri itself, however, while putting that human face onto a female double agent who falls in love with her southern counterpart, still frames North Korea as the enemy. It was of course early days in 1999 and since that time themes have evolved. Films such as Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005) frame the entire senselessness and stupidity of the situation though a village, lost in time in the middle of the peninsula, who didn't know there was a war going on. This brilliant comic drama manages to say more about the situation then any overtly political work and was accessible to a wide audience of mainstream film goers. Films such as the more recent The Berlin File harken back to the Shiri days with its narrative elements of spying and espionage but also focuses on the tragedy when those spies themselves are double crossed and must navigate a perilous middle ground. Ha Jeong-woo, the star of the film, also played the lead character in Jang-hun's The Yellow Sea (2010) as a down and out taxi driver in Yanbian, a Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China. Taking on a dangerous job for money, he comes to South Korea where he finds himself framed, pursued and on the run. 2011's Poongsan also echoes this theme where we see a man caught between two worlds, literally in the middle as he escorts a women over the border to reunite with a recent high ranking defector. When she falls in love with him all hell breaks loose and he finds himself being tortured by the South Koreans and having to take on orders that risk his life further.

Going back to the year 2000, Park Chan-wook's break out JSA sits right in the middle in terms of how South Korea portrays North Koreans and the volatile situation between them. Here we have two South Korean officers and two North Korean officers figuratively and geographically in the middle, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in a small hut in the middle of the DMZ. This movie represents, at a national level, the loss, hurt, pain and senselessness of the situation – we are one but we can never be together. The four soldiers develop a close relationship akin to national brotherhood. But when they are accidently found out, bullets, death and estrangement is again the end result.

Name: Paul Quinn
Occupation: Independent Writer; Founder, HangulCelluloid.com
Location: London, United Kingdom

Korean cinema has throughout the years largely represented North Korea through depictions of individual North Koreans in whatever situation or setting and while I perhaps wouldn't go as far as to say that these have changed per se from an overarching point of view, there have certainly been changes along the way; some brief and seemingly temporary, some less so.

On the one hand, there have been numerous instances throughout the years of films detailing individuals searching for humanity and/or autonomy (albeit sometimes occurring fairly late in proceedings) set against a North Korean regime whose focus and demands take little account of the needs of the few – whether you step back to Nambugun (a 1990 story of a North Korean partisan) or move through later political espionage tales pitting North Korean operatives against government agents of the South; from Shiri, to Double Agent (2003) or the Kdrama Legend of the Patriots (2010) and beyond – and for the large part narratives of this ilk have resisted change. On the other, there are examples (Whistling Princess from 2002 and Ryoo Seung-wan's The Berlin File, to name but two) of narratives containing an uneasy, temporary alliance between North and South (individual or governmental) and it could be asserted that there have been times in the past when their existence would have been more difficult. In the case of a true-life, politically explosive story like Silmido (2003), its story would likely not have seen the light of day as a film had it been pitched in a period of seriously heightened North/South tensions – one of the aforementioned temporary changes.

In recent years there has been an increasing trend of detailing the difficulties faced by North Korean defectors trying to assimilate themselves into South Korean society (Dance Town, Journals of Musan etc) as well as dissections of the issues caused by their 'difference' to South Koreans – strangers in a strange land, if you will – but while a case could be made for this trend to be considered an overall change in focus, to my mind, it is less of a new idea and more of a contemporary side-step, albeit set domestically and without military overtones.

MKC Team

Name: Pierce Conran
Occupation: Editor, KoBiz, Korean Film Council/Modern Korean Cinema; Korea Correspondent, Twitchfilm
Location: Seoul, South Korea

Korean cinema is litered with references to its Northern neighbor and these can take on many forms, which is hardly surprising given the enormity of the issue. Looking at direct representations of North Koreans on screen we can see a growing complexity running through the years, with ideology or representation frequently informed by events or legislation, such as the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) which advocated for a conciliatory approach to North Korea in order to weaken tensions on the peninsula.

The end of the Sunshine Policy happened to coincide with the release of Crossing, one of the first Korean films in the modern era to deal with the life of real North Koreans rather the geopolitical embroglio their "Dear Leader" was embroiled in. Though a sappy, miserable and mediocre film, it was nonetheless selected as Korea's submission to the Oscars that year, a somewhat predictable move, and was able to open the gates for more emotionally complex films about North Koreans, whether those near the China border (The Yellow Sea, Dooman River) or those defecting to the South (Dance Town, Journals of Musan, Poongsan).

Equally important is the hidden representation of North Korea. I may be alone in this but I've long felt that the strength of Korean romantic fare could at least in part be attributed to an allegorical thread running through these narratives. As I see it, the boys/men and girls/womem of these films could represent either side of the DMZ. Dementia (A Moment to Remember, 2004), parallel dimensions (Ditto, Il Mare; both 2000) and terminal illness (...ing, 2003, and about a million others) conspire to keep them apart. Their fate is dictated by powers beyond their control.

Other film like Lee Hae-joon's Castaway on the Moon (2009) also offer some fascinating and layered insights into the relationship between South and North Korea. Speaking of Lee Hae-joon, perhaps one of the film's I'm most looking forward to on the horizon is his upcoming My Dictator, a comedy about a down on his luck actor recruited by Korean Intelligence to impersonate Kim Il-sung circa 1972. It sounds fascinating but as no recent news has surfaced on the project, I just hope he gets to make it.

Name: Rex Baylon
Occupation: Writer, Modern Korean Cinema/VCinema
Location: Sangpoom, South Korea

The answer to this question depends two things. First and foremost is the assumption that those making films concerning North Korea and/or North Koreans are expressing unbiased attitudes, with neither a political or box office agenda being the primary reason for the creation of these films. And second of all is the assumption that South Korean cinema is a reliable barometer of the current populace’s viewpoints on the North.

Cinema in the south has made leaps concerning how the threat of the North is dealt with in on screens. Early South Korean cinema treated North Koreans as either faceless bad guys or a pervasive threat infecting South Korean civilians with a wrongheaded philosophy. Ultimately, during this time the only good North Korean was a dead one.

Fast-forward to the present day and the South’s views of the North haven’t really changed. Films like The Berlin File, Secret Reunion, and R2B: Return to Base all incorporate villainous North Koreans and patriotic South Koreans. Though Secret Reunion and The Berlin File feature strong North Korean protagonists, these men are 'good guys' based on their opposition to the North and their need to protect their family over their corrupt and unfeeling country. Thus, though these men may hurt, kill, and destroy, they are ultimately redeemed through their conversion to the South’s cause. In the case of R2B, the North is portrayed as a country of duplicitous warmongers who attack the South with no just cause except to reap as much terror as possible.

On rare occasions there will be a film like Journals of Musan that depicts North Koreans as actual human people. Shot like a neorealist drama, Journals of Musan is the story of one lonely man who slowly loses his innocence as he tries to survive in Seoul. Within this film, both North and South Koreans are shown to be two sides of the same coin, kind and gentle but also cold and avaricious. By the end of the film there is no one to root for. These types of films are, sad to say, quite rare and not the norm. 

Name: Fabien Schneider
Occupation: Master in Cinema Studies; Writer, Modern Korean Cinema; Editor, Cinemasie.com
Location: Lausanne, Switzerland

Films are cultural texts produced by society, and like all cultural media they represent myths on which the population of a country is gradually building a collective consciousness. A movie represents in most cases a society idealized by its makers which cannot be dissociated from certain ideologies. In the years following the Korean War, North Korea and its supporters were primarily represented as a threat to the very existence of the South Korean state. Being communist simply amounted to making a pact with the enemy from the North. The Hand of Destiny (1954) and Piagol (1955) both show North Korean characters whose humanity can overcome any patriotic or ideological affiliation with North Korea and eventually flee from authoritarianism to find redemption in the South.

It was under the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee that the representation of North Korea became extremely radicalized and ideological. One must bear in mind that Park tried to justify his authoritarian regime by strengthening an excessively patriotic sentiment in the population. But South Korea could not be justified as a nation-state; Koreans have always been regarding themselves since the separation as one people with the same language and the same culture, and because of this they maintain the myth of a future reunification even now. Therefore, the foundation of the South-Korean state which the government could rely on to justify its existence could only be done on a capitalist ideology. This is why the government began to support films in accordance with their ideology, creating the Grand Bell Awards and Quality Movie Reward System to reward the most anti-communist films and those showing the benefits of capitalism, and tracking through censorship films questioning the lack of democracy and promoting socialist ideas. The North Korean threat in the 60s and 70s is represented as an unpatriotic ideological corruption, hence the ban placed on The Stray Bullet (1961) at the time accused of praising North Korea. The nearby enemy is shown as a country that is stuck in the pre-industrial "obscurantism" of the previous century, while South Korea welcomes with open arms the benefits and values ​​of modernization. One of the best examples of this is The Marine Who Never Returns (1963) in which the modernization is represented with American pop music while the few times when soldiers from the North appear, they’re dressed like peasants to lure their enemy or give assault in a frantic mass along with some traditional popular Korean music.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 and the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae-jung in 1998 led to a normalization of relations and perception of North Korea in the media. The films of the 90s and the 2000s lost that strong ideological trait and now show North Koreans as brothers that fate (and foreign powers) separated and opposed. Many films are looking at the personal and humanistic stories of divided families, expatriates or refugees, or the encounter between people of both countries. An image that particularly struck me was from Love of South and North (2003) in which is presented a much idealized sight of North Korean society that has nothing to envy of the South. In The Korean Peninsula (2006), a dangerously nationalistic film, it’s the symbolic reunification through Japan as a common enemy. Currently, the prototype of the North Korean villain is particularly present in action films, but it is more like an easy plot device or cliché associated with the permanent but invisible threat of North Korea as a real agenda policy, much like the Hollywood’s films still now relying on Russian bad guys.

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