The Journals of Musan
Directed by Park Jung-Bum
24 January 2014
The protagonist of this film is one amongst the growing group of poor North Korean refugees who are trying to adapt in prosperous South Korea. The director, former assistant
director to Lee Chang-dong, has made a deeply moving and profound film about such unwanted guests.
The introvert Jeon Seung-Chul, played by the director Park Jung-Bum himself, is stuck in the middle. He tries to earn his living as honestly as possible on the fringes of the capitalist
society and on the outskirts of the mega city, Seoul - first sticking up posters, a job in which competition and territorial claims are murderous. His only comfort is a beautiful white stray dog. Life is even more difficult because the first three numbers of his citizen identification number, "125" mark him as a defector, often drawing a sharp line between him and his fellow Koreans. Things become more complex when he falls in love with a South Koran woman at his church who works at a noraebang (a Korean karaoke room).
Director Park Jung-Bum has said in interviews that he based the main character, Seung-Chul on a North Korean friend he met at University. The film highlights several important themes concerning the lives of North Korean refugees. Firstly, that arrival in South Korea is not the end of their struggle to find safety and security; Seung-Chul is a character with few friends, no stable employment and few, if any prospects. Secondly, for many North Koreans in the South, connections back home are maintained with information and money sent via brokers in China; Seung-Chulís friend, Kyung-Chol, has an uncle in China through whom other North Korean refugees send money to their families. Thirdly, that ignorance is at the root of much of the prejudice that exists against North Koreans. Throughout the film, South Koreans are portrayed as having little or no understanding of the situation of North Koreans living in South Korea.
For those without an understanding of the complex and highly politicized issues surrounding North Koreans in South Korea, this film may leave them with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, The Journals of Musan is important in that, for the first time, the South Korean public is offered a window into the lives of a few of the 24,000 North Koreans residing in South Korea, many of whom have been through indescribable hardships to arrive in their new home.
In many ways, this film represents the beginnings of a new field of work, in scholarly circles, the film industry and beyond, that sheds light on the lives of North Korean refugees, and
act as a starting point for encouraging mutual understanding between those whonewly arrive and their host society.
Director Parkís debut full-length feature, which has already won prizes at its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival, is realistically shot and profoundly moving.