“Crossing” – a New Film about Life in NK

1 06 2008

영화 '크로싱' 포스터

There have been no accurate films about life in the DPRK With the contentious exception of “The Person Who Remains in My Heart” (1989) and “A Schoolgirl’s Diary” (2006) the North Koreans themselves prefer not to produce anything close to reality. The South Korean filmmakers do not exactly know what happens inside the borders of their northern neighbour and always risk misrepresenting the reality, limiting themselves to comedies and spy thrillers. Foreign producers and directors simply are not interested.
It now looks like what we have been waiting for has finally arrived. The new film “Crossing” by director Kim Tae-gyun is an attempt to depict the daily life in North Korea (with focus on poverty, starvation, concentration camps) and the dangers of escape route via China and Mongolia. The Korean-American producer, Patrick Choi, tried with this film to help the world understand the plight of North Koreans suffering from the human rights abuse.
Based on the real story, this film shows a 10-year-old boy who, after all sufferings, decided to cross the border, failed to storm a Western embassy in Beijing, and tragically died in the Mongolian desert on his way to freedom. “Cry with us!” calls the film poster. The lives and emotions of the characters are all true and touching. But were the realities of life in North Korea depicted correctly? Go to the cinema and watch the film to find the answer. See promotional trails and posters here http://www.crossing2008.co.kr/
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…Though it did not win any awards at the Cannes Film Festival last week, “The Crossing” is simply the best film ever made—documentary or otherwise—about the plight of North Koreans.  I had the good fortune of watching an advance screening of the film as part of North Korea Freedom Week in Washington, D.C.  Attendance was not as strong as I had hoped, but there was hardly a dry eye in the theater and one defector could not stop sobbing after the film ended.
What makes “The Crossing” so powerful is not just that it is a tear-jerker, but that it gets almost every detail right.  From the joys and hardships faced by the average North Korean and the unspeakable horrors that take place in the notorious gulags (suyongso) to the perils of crossing into China and Mongolia as well as the difficulty of resettlement in the South, the movie is incredibly realistic.  In fact, the director’s biggest concern was getting the conditions right.  To that end, he met with more than 100 defectors.  The only scene where a few of us have questioned the accuracy is when Cha is able to turn on a light in the middle of the night in what might be Hoeryeong… 
See the full text of the review by Peter Beck here

탈북자 다룬 영화 ‘크로싱’-워싱턴서 첫 시사회

탈북자 문제를 본격적으로 다룬 한국의 첫 상업영화 ‘크로싱’이 오는 28일 이 곳 워싱턴에서 처음으로 시사회를 갖습니다. 이 영화를 직접 구상하고 제작한 패트릭 최 씨는 ‘미국의 소리’방송과의 인터뷰에서, 북한의 심각한 인권 문제가 핵과 동등하게 세계인들에 알려지길 희망해 영화 제작과 시사회를 결정했다고 말했습니다. 오는 26일부터 워싱턴에서 열리는 제 5회 북한자유주간 행사의 일환으로 열리는 이번 시사회에 관해 김영권 기자가 알아봤습니다.
탈북자들의 실제 이야기를 재구성한 한국 영화 ‘크로싱’ 이 오는 28일 워싱턴에서 첫 선을 보입니다. 제 5회 북한자유주간을 주최하는 북한자유연합의 남신우 부의장은 23일 ‘미국의 소리’ 방송과의 전화 인터뷰에서 ‘크로싱’ 시사회 일정이 28일로 최종 확정됐다고 말했습니다.
“우리가 하는 행사의 기본이 북한 인권과 탈북자이니까 이 영화가 전체적으로 개봉하기 전에 시사회를 할 수 있고, 또 미국의 기자들에게 보여줘서 북한자유주간의 일부분으로 기여할 수 있다는 데 큰 의미가 있다고 봅니다.” 한국의 인기배우 차인표가 주연을 맡은 영화 ‘크로싱’은 병든 아내를 고칠 약과 배고픔에 지친 가족들의 식량을 구하기 위해 중국으로 탈북한 한 남성이 어린 아들과 엇갈린 만남을 반복하며 겪는 탈북자들의 가슴 아픈 이야기를 중국, 몽골 현지 촬영을 통해 매우 사실적으로 그리고 있습니다.
28일 미국 의회도서관과 워싱턴 시내 한 문화공간 (Ebenezers Coffeehouse)에서 두 차례 열릴 이번 시사회에는 영화의 프로듀서와 작가가 직접 참석해 마지막 시사회 뒤 기자회견을 가질 예정입니다. 4~5년 여 전부터 이 영화를 직접 구상하고 제작을 주도한 미주 한인 프로듀어 패트릭 최 씨는 23일 ‘미국의 소리’ 방송과의 전화 인터뷰에서, 북한 인권에 대한 실상을 세계인들과 나누고 싶어 영화를 제작하게 됐다고 말했습니다.
“미국 뿐아니라 전세계에, 물론 한국 사람들도 마찬가지겠지만 북한에 대해서 지금 핵 문제에 대해서만 많은 사람들이 알고 있는데 그 밖에도 인권 문제도 똑 같은 중요성을 갖고 많은 사람들이 알았으면 좋겠습니다.” 최 씨는 북한 인권 문제의 실상을 사실적으로 다룬 만큼 개봉 전에 미국 내 주요 인사들에게 이 영화를 먼저 소개하고 싶었다고 말했습니다.
이 영화를 연출한 김태균 감독은 최근 일반에 공개한 영상 편지에서 영화감독으로서 꼭 만들어야만 하는 영화가 있다며, ‘크로싱’ 이 바로 그런 영화라고 말했습니다. “10년 정도 된 것 같아요. 탈북자들. 또 북한의 식량난 때문에 거리를 떠돌아 다니는 꽃제비들을 촬영한 영상이 있었는데 너무너무 가까운 곳에서 그런 일이 벌어지고 있다는 것에 대해서 너무 가슴 아프고 내가 살아있다는 것 자체가 너무 부끄러워지는 생각이 들었었어요. 그 기억이 제가 이 영화를 시작하게 된 첫 동기일지도 몰라요.” 김 감독은 이 영화를 통해 특히 남북한이 한 핏줄, 한 가족임을 느끼게 되길 소망한다고 덧붙였습니다.
프로듀서 패트릭 최 씨는 4년 여의 영화 제작기간 동안 재정 문제 등 여러 어려움이 있었지만 그 때마다 북한주민을 사랑하는 투자가들이 나타나 고비를 넘겼다며, 덕분에 영화가 잘 만들어졌다고 말했습니다. “잘 나왔다고 생각합니다. (웃음.) 여러가지 힘든 과정들이 있었고, 또 우리가 여러 탈북자들을 인터뷰했었고, 정확한 정보를 갖고 영화를 만드려고 노력했고, 결과는 우리가 만들려고 했던 영화가 나온 것 같습니다.”
영화 ‘크로싱’은 5월 중순 세계적인 프랑스 칸느영화제에 별도로 마련된 영화출품시장에서 구매자들에게 첫 선을 보인 뒤 6월 5일 한국에서 개봉될 예정입니다.
See promotional trails and posters here http://www.crossing2008.co.kr/main/main.asp

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21 06 2008
Leonid Petrov

A Film All Koreans Must See

Peter M. Beck

Weekly Chosun/Korea Herald
Published 30 May 2008 [1037 words]

I have often remarked that I never cease to be amazed at how little concern the average South Korean has for North Korea. Few people seem to care how many North Koreans may starve this year as the threat of renewed famine looms. Even missile and nuclear tests are now non-events. There is a new Korean movie that opens June 5 that I hope will change all of that. Anyone who cares about the fate of the Korean people should go see “The Crossing.”

Though it did not win any awards at the Cannes Film Festival last week, “The Crossing” is simply the best film ever made—documentary or otherwise—about the plight of North Koreans. I had the good fortune of watching an advance screening of the film as part of North Korea Freedom Week in Washington, D.C. Attendance was not as strong as I had hoped, but there was hardly a dry eye in the theater and one defector could not stop sobbing after the film ended.

At first glance, this is not the film one would expect from a director, Kim Tae-kyun, best known for churning out fluff like “First Kiss” (kissu halggayo) and “A Romance of Their Own” (neukdae eui yuhok). On top of that, the director cast Asian heartthrob Cha In-pyo in the lead role as a North Korean father desperate to save his sick wife. Yet, in an interview with DailyNK, Kim, 47, reveals that his father was a North Korean refugee who, like my father-in-law, passed away not knowing the fate of his loved ones in the North.

A documentary about North Korean street children (ggotjebi) inspired Kim to make the movie, but it would be ten years before his dream could become a reality. He was repeatedly told that he would never be able to secure the necessary financial backers, and Cha In-pyo turned him down four times before agreeing to take the lead role.

What makes “The Crossing” so powerful is not just that it is a tear-jerker, but that it gets almost every detail right. From the joys and hardships faced by the average North Korean and the unspeakable horrors that take place in the notorious gulags (suyongso) to the perils of crossing into China and Mongolia as well as the difficulty of resettlement in the South, the movie is incredibly realistic. In fact, the director’s biggest concern was getting the conditions right. To that end, he met with more than 100 defectors. The only scene where a few of us have questioned the accuracy is when Cha is able to turn on a light in the middle of the night in what might be Hoeryeong.

To say that this is the best film or play to ever depict the plight of the North Korean people is unfortunately not saying very much because few films have been made and those that have have serious limitations. The first film to receive widespread attention was the documentary “Seoul Train” (2005), made by two first-time American filmmakers. It is an important film documenting the underground railroad to get North Koreans out of China, but the production qualities leave much to be desired and it is weighed down by too many talking heads—not exactly a recipe for commercial success. Meanwhile, “Typhoon” (2006) is the opposite—a blockbuster devoid of any meaningful content. The movie focuses on a defector bent on revenge. Unfortunately, this defector lacks any counterparts in the real world. Despite being one of the worst films I have ever seen (defector Kang Chul-hwan’s favorable review in Chosun Ilbo notwithstanding), amazingly, the movie stands as the most popular film of all time in Korea with over 4.2 million tickets sold.

The most impressive work I had seen prior to “The Crossing” was the improbable musical “Yoduk Story.” Amazingly, weaving songs and dance numberss in between horrific scenes from one of North Korea’s worst gulags actually works. In fact, a variation on one of the most powerful lines of the play, when the existence of God is questioned, is also used in “The Crossing.” One of the Yodok prisoners sings, “Dear God, are you there? Please don’t just take care of South Korea” (abeoji, keogi kyesijyo. Namjoseon eman gajimashigo). Unfortunately, the play was performed at a small theatre at the southern edge of Seoul. Only 200,000 people saw the performance. Gulag survivor Shin Dong-hyeok, who published his memoirs last year, told me recently that no film or play could capture the horrors he experienced, much the way most American combat veterans in Iraq claim that no film—documentary or otherwise—can accurately convey their experiences. However, I am willing to venture that “The Crossing” comes as close to conveying the real situation as is humanly possible.

The question is, will South Korean movie goers invest their precious time and money to go see “The Crossing,” even if it is devoid of the “Hollywood-style” special effects found in “Typhoon”? I sincerely hope so. While the film did not win any awards in Cannes, recent news reports suggest that international film buyers showed a keen interest in the film. The director hopes to attract five million viewers, but I would be impressed if half that number see the film. A film like “The Crossing” could dramatically raise public awareness about the South’s brothers to the North. Films like “Supersize Me” and “An Inconvenient Truth” have helped tens of millions view McDonalds and global warming in an entirely new light.

Finally, we must ask an even more difficult question. To what extent will this film be smuggled into North Korea? We know that South Korean dramas and films are seeping into the North via the porous border with China, but will North Koreans want to see how a South Korean director portrays life in their country? Pianist Kim Cheol-woong, who defected from the North because of his love for jazz music, thinks he has the answer. He told me that after viewing the film, he thought there was a real possibility of “`The Crossing’ Effect” taking hold in the North, thereby encouraging even more North Koreans to flee their homeland. I cannot help but wonder if Seoul is prepared for such a possibility.

21 06 2008
Leonid Petrov

“Crossing” will open in South Korea on June 26, 2008.

June 5, 2008 (Bloomberg, Review by Heejin Koo)

North Korean defector Yong Soo bites his lip as he listens on a cellphone in Seoul to the son he left behind and hasn’t seen for years. “Mother’s dead; I’m sorry it’s my fault!” the 11-year-old boy cries, breaking into an anguished wail. “It’s all right, Joon, it’s all right,” the father says impotently to the boy, who is now himself on the run from North Korean and Chinese agents in China.Based on the life of a North Korean defector and his family, director Kim Tae Gyun’s “Crossing” gives a stark account of the hardships of North Korean refugees as they flee famine and persecution in one of the world’s most isolated nations.

Kim’s film doesn’t sugarcoat the life of the people living under Kim Jong Il’s regime, nor does he hype the drama of defection. Instead, it gives a face to the suffering through the story of a father trying to help his family survive.Yong Soo, played by South Korean actor Cha In Pyo, is a coal miner in North Korea’s northern province of Hamkyong Namdo. He decides to cross illegally into China to get medicine and food for his wife and son Joon, played by Shin Myeong Cheol. While running from Chinese agents, Yong Soo loses the money he earned as a lumberjack in China. He joins a group of North Koreans who storm the German embassy in Shenyang, fighting their way through the Chinese guards. Yong Soo defects to South Korea and works as a mechanic at a small factory, saving his wages and government relocation money for his family. Yet his frail wife dies and his son Joon embarks on his own perilous quest to join his father.

‘Arduous March’

The character Yong Soo is based on numerous accounts of North Korean defectors, but key elements of the film follow the case of Yoo Sang Joon, well known to South Koreans. Yoo, 44, fled to China with his older son in 1998, after losing his wife and younger son during the so-called “arduous march” in the mid ’90s, when floods, droughts and isolation caused a famine that killed as many as 1 million people.

During a crackdown on North Korean refugees by Chinese authorities, Yoo left his remaining son with a Korean-Chinese family and crossed into South Korea. He scrimped and saved to bring his son to join him. Yoo’s son died of exhaustion and dehydration in the Gobi desert as he tried to escape to Mongolia to evade North Korean agents and Chinese border guards. Kim didn’t consult with Yoo before or during the production of the movie, which began four years ago, because he wanted to keep the project secret.

Under Wraps

“I didn’t want the government getting involved, nor did I want to adversely affect the activities of groups that help North Korean defectors operating in China,” Kim said after a May 30 screening in Seoul. Yoo, who lives in Seoul after being released from a Chinese prison in December for helping North Korean refugees, said he doesn’t plan to watch the film. “It is too close to my heart — I think it will break,” he said in a telephone interview. He wants the film to “give a face to the plight of the North Korean refugees in China, and raise awareness of the matter in South Korea, and hopefully around the world.” North Koreans can’t cross directly into South Korea because the border is separated by a landmine-strewn demilitarized zone. Instead, many cross into China and try to make their way by another route to South Korea.

Firing Squad

There are an estimated 300,000 North Korean defectors in China, according to human rights groups. The Chinese government does not recognize them as refugees and, under an agreement with Kim Jong Il’s regime, sends them back to North Korea to face political “re-education” at prison camps or the firing squad, refugees say.

Assistant director Kim Chul Young and some other members of the production staff are North Korean defectors, adding to the authenticity of the film, which cost little more than 6 billion won ($5.8 million) and was funded by Vantage Holdings Co. and the Public Official Benefit Association.Parts of the movie were filmed in China and Mongolia. Yong Soo’s village was created on farmland in Kangwon-do, South Korea, based on accounts from refugees. “It could have been my own home town,” said Kim Young Il, 30, who defected from North Korea in 1996 and saw the May 30 screening. “The way they talk, the scenery, the story, it was so believable. I’ve been through it.”

Kim said half of any profit from the film will go to help North Korean defectors. He hopes to take the movie to international film festivals and perhaps distribute it overseas. Cha, known for his romantic leads in ’90s Korean soap operas, said he hesitated before taking on the role. He talked with North Korean defectors and practiced the Hamkyong Namdo accent with them, a tone unfamiliar to most South Koreans.“I realize now just how ignorant I was about the plight of our brothers and sisters in North Korea,” Cha said at the screening. “Now that I have learned, I cannot stand idly by.”

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