Koreas brought together by film


The divided Korean peninsula is set to be brought together by a feature film set during unified Korea’s resistance to Japanese colonisation in the 1900s.

Arirang, a South Korean film, which opens simultaneously in the North and South next week, will be the first feature from Seoul to be shown on both sides of the Korean border, according to the South’s Korean Herald.

Since war separated the two neighbours in the 1950s, there has been little chance for Koreans from either side to watch productions by the other.

“It will be good for reconciliation if we can encourage more cultural exchanges like this,” said the film’s director Lee Doo-yong.

But Arirang may fare very differently in the two Koreas, when it opens on 23 May. The countries are reported to have deeply divergent tastes in films.

Arirang tells the story of a young Korean man who loses his sanity after being tortured by the Japanese.

The theme is likely to be popular in the North, whose founder and first president, Kim Il-sung, was the leader of pro-independence guerrillas.

His son, current leader Kim Jong-il, has also criticised Tokyo for its repressive regime during the Korean occupation.

Most North Korean films tell traditional folk stories or advertise the communist government’s regime, so Arirang may well prove a refreshing alternative for audiences in Pyongyang.

“The film shows the happiness and sadness of life,” Mr Lee told the Associated Press news agency. “North Koreans seemed to be very moved by it.”

But south of the border, audiences have a tendency to shun traditional movies, according to the Korean Herald.

The fact that the sequel to the Matrix opens on the same day as Arirang may also lower attendance figures in South Korea.

Past films made in the North have not fared well in Seoul.

In July 2000, a Northern film called Pulgasari – a version of Godzilla – was seen by an audience of less than 1,000 South Koreans, according to the Korean Herald.

Kidnapped director

Pulgasari was one of the many films produced by Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean film director who was kidnapped with his wife in the 1970s to produce films for the North’s leader, Kim Jong-il.

Mr Kim is a famed film enthusiast, and is said to have a library of 20,000 Hollywood movies.

He has even opened a film school in impoverished Pyongyang.

Arirang’s director, Mr Lee, said he was not too concerned about being kidnapped when he visited the North last year to gain approval for his film’s showing.

“But I must admit I was a little nervous when entering Pyongyang,” he told the Associated Press.


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