An upsetting book, a tragedy of recluses, a vanishing couple

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An upsetting book, a tragedy of recluses, a vanishing couple

March 11, 1954
The novelist Jeong Bi-seok (1911 to 1991) was bombarded with criticism for “Madame Freedom,” a story of a woman cheating on her spouse, a well-off professor, but eventually being accepted back home thanks to his wide heart. Hwang San-deok, a Seoul National University critic and professor wrote of the novelist, “[He] committed an unacceptable sin for both this country and its people. The threat from this novel is equal to that of 500,000 Chinese troops in the Korean War.”
Rumors circulated that North Koreans held up the novel as an example of the South’s decaying society. On this date, Mr. Jeong fought back in a newspaper column, creating a huge social issue. Women’s groups asked the government to stop circulating the publication. Back in the 1950s, this story was indeed something to talk about.

March 12, 2001
Lee Young-ja was a naive 19-year-old girl, living happily in the isolated backcountry of Gangwon province. Brought up in the hills by her father, Lee Won-yeon, Young-ja was like a noble savage, free from civilization’s bonds. She did not attend school and her house lacked electricity and a telephone. The pair made do by gathering mountain herbs. Everything was fine ― until the outside world discovered them in August 2000.
Thrust in the media spotlight, Young-ja and her father landed on the TV news and even a high profile commercial. Skipping out on her father, Young-ja went to Seoul and adapted well there.
On Feb. 9, however, her world broke down: Her father was found dead at home. And on this date, a Mr. Yang, 53, was arrested on suspicion of murdering Young-ja’s father. Mr. Yang, who was convicted and jailed for the crime, had been after their supposed riches. But after stabbing Mr. Lee to death, he absconded with only 124,000 won ($100) in cash and some checks. Mr. Yang said, “I thought they must have made a fortune by starring in a TV commercial. And they were the easy targets.”
Young-ja soon converted to Buddhism, explaining it this way: “I’m too afraid of this horrible world.”
March 13, 1986
The star movie actress Choi Eun-hee, who had graced the screens since the 1950s, vanished on Jan. 14, 1978, in Hong Kong. About six months later, it was time for Shin Sang-ok, Ms. Choi’s former husband and a celebrated movie director, to disappear.
On a quest to locate Ms. Choi, Mr. Shin drifted around Southeast Asia and was last heard from in Hong Kong in July 1978. From then on, Mr. Shin and Ms. Choi’s whereabouts remained a mystery, until April 2, 1984 when the National Intelligence Agency announced that North Korean agents had kidnapped the pair, at separate times.
On this date, however, the couple was in a taxi in Vienna, Austria, on their way to the American Embassy. Mr. Shin had found Ms. Choi in North Korea taking orders to produce films from Kim Jong-il, who supposedly had a keen interest in movies.
Eventually, the two reunited as a couple and after their escape from the North returned to South Korea via the United States. They remain active in the Korean movie scene.


by Chun Su-jin
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