South Korean Films Spotlight
North Korean Escapees’ Plight
By Kurt Achin
Korea (VOA) — Two
emerging South Korean film projects are focusing a media spotlight
on the problems faced by North Korean escapees in China. The
films hint at a new atmosphere in South Korea, which has officially
downplayed the humanitarian crisis for years, amid efforts
at reconciliation with Pyongyang.
The two films
– one a fictional drama, the other a documentary – seek to
raise the profile of the danger and suffering faced by North
Korean refugees living illegally in China.
100,000 North Koreans are believed to have fled over the border
between their two countries, seeking to escape malnutrition,
poverty and political oppression at home.
As a team
of journalists from South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper seek
to demonstrate, in their four-hour documentary series, On the
Border, that many North Koreans rely on human traffickers to
make the journey.
In one clip,
a night vision camera captures two North Koreans who are dripping
wet from crossing the Tumen River into China. One is a young
woman, the other, a North Korean "broker" who aims
to sell her – usually, say the filmmakers, for between $700
groups say tens of thousands of women have been trafficked
in such a manner, many of them ending up in abusive situations
or working in the sex trade. Because China views North Korean
escapees as economic migrants rather than refugees, they are
returned home involuntarily, if discovered, to face severe
punishment or execution at home. The refugees therefore have
little choice but to obey the client to whom they are trafficked.
the senior producer of the documentary, says the issue deserves
more attention in South Korea.
He says there
has been plenty of coverage of North Korean defectors who manage
to reach the South, but that South Korea is in denial about
the situation in China.
out that North Korean defector issues have had a low profile
for the past 10 years, during which South Korea has pursued
an official policy of engagement with North Korea. Seoul has
gone to great lengths to avoid irritating or criticizing Pyongyang.
Many artists and journalists who have tried to draw attention
to North Korean human rights issues have found themselves facing
obstacles to their efforts.
may be changing, with the recent inauguration of South Korean
President Lee Myung-bak, who has vowed to make North Korean
human rights a major item on his agenda.
sign of change, South Korean director Kim Tae-kyun and well
known actor Cha In-pyo are teaming up in a major commercial
film titled Crossing, set to be released in May.
is based on North Korean defector testimonies and a number
of North Korean defectors were part of the production team.
The story shows the struggle to survive by an 11-year-old boy
who flees to China, where his father has gone to search for
clip, a North Korean soldier severely beats a young boy, attempting
make the journey into China.
attention, the issue of North Korean defectors remains very
sensitive here in the South, where only about 10,000 North
Koreans have managed to settle permanently. Both films – On
the Border, and Crossing – were produced in secret.