Popular film raises questions

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Popular film raises questions

“The wife of Chief Staff Sergeant Han Sang-kook left the country in 2005.”

“Sergeant Park Kyung-soo considered retiring after the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong, but changed his mind when he had a daughter. He was dispatched to the ROK Cheonan patrol ship, but sank with the vessel in 2010 when it was attacked by North Korean torpedoes.”

I couldn’t hold back my emotion when reading the short biographies of the victims at the conclusion of the film “Northern Limit Line,” which I saw over the weekend. I felt a pang watching Captain Yoon Young-ha’s father tenderly stroke his son’s sailor suit after his death.

A gush of tears ran down my face when the closing credits rolled with excerpts on the lives of the surviving family members and victims. Muffled sobs were heard here and there. A couple who appeared to be in their 60s sitting next to me sighed, murmuring that the victims were younger than their son.

However, what saddened the audience more than the film, which is based on a true story, were the stories of the lives of the families who had to carry on with nothing but memories.

Director Kim Hak-soon said he originally planned the film as a documentary, which was mostly true to reality. The media never reported on the fact that the military learned from wire taps that North Korea was planning an attack near the Northern Limit Line, the maritime border that divides the two Koreas.

On June 13, the military’s spy troops intercepted a communication channel from the North Korean patrol ship Dengsangot 684, requesting a command to fire. The ship had been defeated by the South Korean Navy during the first battle near Yeonpyeong Island in 1999.

So the 2002 skirmish was not coincidental. The North Korean vessel had been fully armed to retaliate. Yet the military commanders ignored their intelligence, resulting in the capsizing of the Chamsuri 357.

What was even more perplexing was why the Korean soldiers were commanded to stop firing at the sinking Dengsangot 684. The audience was left feeling enraged at the 30-minute battle scene that ended with the Dengsangot 684 being towed away by another North Korean ship, while the Chamsuri 357 sank into the sea.

What happened afterwards was even more appalling. President Kim Dae-jung, who had been in Japan to attend the 2002 World Cup Games, didn’t even bother to stop by the military hospital where the victims were hospitalized when he arrived home, even though it was close to the military airport where his flight landed. Neither the president nor the defense minister attended the funerals.

The headstone of Chief Han, who didn’t take his hand off the helm even after being shot, reads that he died nearby Yeonpyeong. He was recorded as dying on duty, not in battle. The victims were compensated according to the death policy for public officials. The families of Captain Yoon received 6.5 million won ($5,753), Han got 3.8 million won and Petty Officer Second Class Park Dong-hyuk received 3 million won.

Our rage turned from North Korea to our own government upon the revelations that an obvious warning was ignored, battle guidelines were irrelevant and unrealistic, the cease-fire command was questionable and that our soldiers who died fighting for their nation were treated unfairly and disrespectfully.

The film sparked controversy when it was released, with some criticizing it as outdated and anti-North Korea. But a socially sensitive film usually sparks ideological debate.

The Kim Dae-jung memorial center issued a statement that the film was not accurate. The movie distributor, NEW, is the same company that distributed “The Lawyer,” based on former President Roh Moo-hyun. NEW Vice President Suh Dong-wook said that the film was not intended to be anti-North Korean or even heroic. If the audience was touched, it was because of the reality, he said.

“Northern Limit Line” received a 9.29 rating from audiences on Naver. Now, I’m no movie critic, but I would rate it a nine out of 10 because of the painful sadness and emotive grief it provoked.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 10, Page 30

*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

BY Jung Chul-keun
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