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2008/03/18 17:46 KST
Film on tragedy of N.K. defectors to be released

   SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- The first Korean film depicting the tragic reality of life for North Korean defectors will be released by the end of June after four years of "quiet" filming and production, the film's producer said Tuesday.

   "Crossing," a story directed by Kim Tae-gyun and starring Korean TV star Cha In-pyo, depicts an 8,000 km arduous and lonely journey made by an 11-year-old North Korean boy in search of his coal-miner father who ended up defecting to South Korea.

   The family's tragedy begins when the boy's father crosses the North Korean border with China to find some food and medicine for his ailing wife. His failure to return causes his son to attempt a similar crossing and reunite with his father.

   In South Korean films, North Korean defectors were good for a laugh because of their naivete and ignorance of the South's capitalist system, or usually limited to a marginal role. Crossing's serious approach to the issue makes the film rare, according to Park Hye-young of the movie's publicity company, "Coming Soon."
An increasing number of North Koreans are fleeing their impoverished country and crossing into Vietnam, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries via China, mostly on their way to South Korea.
About 12,000 North Koreans have arrived in South Korea since the three-year Korean War ended in 1953. But China has an agreement with its close communist ally North Korea to repatriate what they term economic migrants, a policy strongly criticized by human rights groups. Critics say the deported defectors face harsh punishment including jail terms and forced labor.

   Since the film touched on sensitive issues such as North Korean lumbermen working in Russia and "Kotjebis," hungry children that gather around the vicinities of markets begging for food, most of the film had to be kept secret for the past years, Kim said.

   "One of the most unforgettable memories in my life was seeing a TV documentary program on North Korea," he wrote in a press release. "It was really heart-breaking to see through TV the so-called 'kotjebi' children, looked five or six years old, hurriedly eating noodles that fell on the market floor after washing them in dirty drain water. I was struck dumb," he said.

   The director also said the scene of the father Yong-su entering into the German Embassy in Beijing was inspired by a 2002 incident in which a family of 25 North Korean defectors rushed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing to seek asylum in South Korea. The incident ignited massive defection by North Koreans.

   "I had to be very cautious in making this film because of the political sensitivity of the defector issue," Kim said during a news conference in which part of the incomplete film was open to media for the first time.

   Kim Cheol-yong, a 34-year-old North Korean defector, participated as a assistant director. He served as a member of an art propaganda team before defecting to South Korea in 2001. Several other North Korea defectors took part as film crew members, teaching North Korean accents to movie players and decorating a setting of North Korean border villages erected in a remote South Korean village in Gangwon Province and Mongolia.

   The northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning and Mongolia's Gobi Desert were also part of the overseas locations, he said.

   "We personally interviewed over a hundred North Korean defectors and examined published testimonies as well as video clips and photos for this movie," the director Kim Tae-gyun said.

   Lead actor Cha said he had rejected the director's offer to work together on the film for four occasions because he thought Korean audiences might be reluctant to see the "unpleasant" reality on film.

   "I worried this film would probably not be welcomed by audiences, at first," Cha said. "Back at home, I saw a photo of a skinny North Korean boy who had starved to death with his arms around his bag at Chongjin Station, while surfing around the Internet," he said. "I cried a lot and changed my mind, wanting to do something to help the North Korean compatriots who are vulnerable to hunger, disease and oppression."
The crew is now putting finishing touches on the film before its nationwide release toward the end of June, according to Park. "I, of course, hope this film will go abroad afterwards," Kim Tae-gyun said.

   sshim@yna.co.kr
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