‘Dear Pyongyang’ a moving tale of a family and country divided

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‘Dear Pyongyang’ a moving tale of a family and country divided

The title of the film “Dear Pyongyang” has two implications.
On one hand, it indicates the director’s personal journey to the ideological home of her family.
Yet it also plays with the political nuance of the word, which is used to address North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong-il.
“The audience in Japan couldn’t believe my title after the North’s abduction of Japanese civilians,” says Yang Young-hee, the director who is also the film’s narrator. “But it’s the only place on earth where all our family can come together. To my father, it’s an ideological home. For my brother, it was the home of a better future. For my nephews, it’s an accidental home of their birth.”
The film won the Best Asian Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and a Jury’s Award at Sundance this year.
The film, which opened here on Thursday, is a documentary mostly about the director’s father, a leading activist for pro-North Korean residents in Japan, and his three sons who were “repatriated” to the North when the director was six.
The film, which begins with footage of the director’s nephews in Pyongyang, took more than 10 years to complete, and is peppered with family photos, images of the streets of Pyongyang and letters Ms. Yang has exchanged with her brothers over the years.
“It’s probably more accurate to say that it took me 10 years to decide to release the film,” Ms. Yang said. “I drank and cried a lot thinking about the film’s construction. Every night I dreamt about my brothers following me, getting mad about the film.”
Ironically, the film’s unanswered questions, which were filled in by narration and visual hints, helped to build a stronger film, serving as a poignant description of the family’s split reality.
Yet probably the most significant part of the film comes from heartfelt dialogue between the ideological father and his liberal daughter, and how they come to reconcile their political differences and reach an emotional understanding of each other. The father wants his daughter to keep her North Korean passport; she wants to acquire a South Korean passport so that she can travel freely. He wants her to find a Korean husband; she playfully asks whether that would include Koreans living in America, which the North Koreans see as their enemy.
Eventually the father gives up, explaining, “It’s special permission for her only.”
Yang shows these debates with humor and lightness. The narrator sympathizes with the political conviction of her orthodox father as a human vision of hope, endorsing his dignity in a changing world.
“I was never a fan of the philosophy of enlightenment,” she says. “I would be disappointed if people see this as a political documentary.”
As the film progresses their bond is deeply moving (Yang documents her father in bed, having had a stroke, in the latter part of the film), drawing upon the affection between them.
“It’s a chain that you could never break away from,” she says, referring to her family. “You could only wonder about why you were his daughter. That’s what’s so intriguing about family.”

“Dear PyongYang” screens at Cine Quenon. For more information contact www.cqn.co.kr

by Park Soo-mee
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