Filmmaker explores life after the reunion
Television shows featuring reunions between long lost relatives are popular in Korea, which is perhaps not surprising given the division of North and South Korea and the heartache it continues to cause on both sides of the border. But the war that divided the country also gave birth to international adoption, and there have been several TV programs showing teary reunions between birth parents and the now-adults, who as children were adopted by parents in foreign countries. The scenarios on these programs are often similar: the adoptee waits nervously for her birth mother to come out from behind a curtain, and the two embrace as sad music plays in the background.
But none of these programs show what happens after the reunion, when parent and child often struggle to communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers.
“Resilience” by documentary filmmaker Tammy Chu - who is herself an adoptee - tells this side of the adoption story. The film focuses on Noh Myung-ja and her son Brent Beesley, and their attempts to form and sustain a relationship after 30 years of living apart.
In tracing their story, Chu delves into lesser known aspects about adoption.
“I always wanted to make a film about the issue,” she said last week at a cafe near Samcheong-dong, central Seoul.
Chu reunited with her birth family in 1996 when she was 22, but as she recalled, “Along with the language difficulties and cultural differences between us, there were so many more questions that arose. I wanted to capture that.”
In the course of making the film, Chu interviewed 30 unwed single mothers and a host of other people working in the field of international adoption.
“Early on in the process, my intent was to include the stories of other unwed single mothers,” Chu said. “But when we started editing, Myung-ja and Brent’s story was so strong, the way their relationship was developing was so interesting, that we decided to focus on them.”
Although the film centers on the budding relationship between Noh and Beesley, the larger message seems to be that international adoption shouldn’t be given priority over other forms of care for children.
Korea is beginning to shed its reputation as a “baby-exporting country,” but adoption continues - and the majority of children relinquished for adoption are children of unwed single mothers, who still face a strong social stigma here.
Chu hopes the film will help raise awareness to this aspect of adoption. Although the majority of children adopted immediately after the war were orphans, those adopted today have families, Chu said.
She also noted the increase in “celebrity adoptions,” with stars such as Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Meg Ryan adopting children from Asian and African countries.
“I definitely think celebrity adoptions have led us into thinking that it’s a glamorous thing to do,” Chu said. “But the problem is that many birth parents are misled into relinquishing their children, like my mother was. And people want to believe that adoption equals a happy family.”
Chu said that assistance should instead be given to poor families and unwed single mothers so that families are not separated.
In addition to this film, Chu is currently coproducing two other documentaries. One is about an American father who is taking care of his severely disabled son and the other is about the world of online gaming.
Resilience opens Sept. 30 at Cinecode Sonje, in Sogyeok-dong, central Seoul. For details, visit http://cafe.naver.com/artsonjearthall or www.resiliencefilm.com.
By Sung So-young [email@example.com]