“North Korea and its people have been lampooned in films and the media. And its people have been sacrificed by politicians as tools,” says filmmaker Jung Sung-san . “That just segregates the people of the South and North. I want to change that through film and other arts.”
Jung Sung-san came to South Korea from the North in 1996. A graduate of Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts and Moscow State University, Jung joined Taeyoung Productions, and worked on such acclaimed films as “Shiri” (1998), “Joint Security Area” (2000) and “Silmido” (2003) that all revolve around North Korea. “Silmido”, “Joint Security Area” and “Shiri” are still ranked the 4th, 7th and 8th highest-grossing films in the country, respectively, according to the Korean Film Council.
Jung has now completed another film production “Ryanggangdo Children” which opened in theaters this month. [See trailer here.] The script was inspired by a question from a friend about whether he had Christmas while growing up in the North. The film chronicles a group of North Korean children who find Christmas presents sent by balloon from South Korea. They play with the toys until a villager finds them and tries to take them away.
Jung had actually begun work on “Ryanggangdo Children” in 2003 but faced a number of setbacks, taking eight years to complete the project. There were many challenges: casting, for example.
“Our biggest concern was that none of the children looked like North Korean children at all,” Jung said. The actors were paler and more plump than their northern cousins. “So I encouraged them to have fun catching fish and harvesting potatoes and corn before the shoot. We also had them use North Korean accents even when they weren’t in front of the cameras and those who didn’t had to pay a 1,000 won fine.”
Some critics have criticized the film for its lack of a political viewpoint, but Jung disagrees.
“My message was that adults [whether they are North or South Koreans] are worse than animals,” he said, commenting on his use of dogs and chickens in the film. “Because of ideology, the sad reality is that adults put these children into difficult situations.”
Jung says he will continue producing art that shows the “true face” of North Korea, regardless of politics or ideology.
“North Korea and its people have been lampooned in films and the media. And its people have been sacrificed by politicians as tools. That just segregates the people of the South and North. I want to change that through film and other arts.”
Inspired by Joongangdaily piece by reporter Sung So-young.