‘Crash Landing on You’ raises eyebrows: Hit drama has caused some controversy for depicting a love story in North Korea

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‘Crash Landing on You’ raises eyebrows: Hit drama has caused some controversy for depicting a love story in North Korea

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Left: Ri Jung-hyuk (played by Hyun Bin), second from left, grills some meat on charcoals at the request of Yoon Se-ri (played by Son Ye-jin), far right, in the drama series “Crash Landing on You,” set in a small North Korean village.

The new series “Crash Landing on You” has everything you expect from Korean dramas: Romance, a love triangle, chaebol, betrayal and jealousy, but all these happen in the most secluded place in the world - North Korea.

The plot goes like this: A South Korean heiress of a conglomerate gets stuck in a tornado while paragliding and has to make an emergency landing in North Korea without knowing that she had crossed the border. There, she comes across a high-ranking North Korean solider, and the two find themselves falling for each other.

With its improbable plot, tvN’s new drama series started off with a 6.1 percent viewership rating for its first episode in December.

It was a pretty good start. The previous drama series on the same time slot fetched a mere 3.2 percent viewership rating.

The show is the much-anticipated return of star writer Park Ji-eun, who has written mega hits like “My Love from the Star” (2013-2014), as well as A-list actors Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin.

But after the first episode hit the air, the drama got caught up in a controversy for featuring North Korea as its main backdrop and portraying a North Korean village and its people like a fairy tale. The depiction was criticized for being too far from the bleak reality of the North Korea people seen on TV news.

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A street stall sells all imaginable products from electric rice cookers to day and night facial creams in “Crash Landing on You.” [TVN]

Six episodes in, Yoon Se-ri, the heiress, remains in North Korea, making some viewers say that it is difficult to relate to, especially during the current situation in which diplomatic relations between the North and South are strained.

For example, the fictional village frequently has no electricity, but people still watch TV by pedaling bike-powered electricity generators. Steamy bowls of white rice, meat grilled on charcoal and handmade noodles are some of the staples they live on.

Although the market in the village doesn’t have the scented candle that the female protagonist is in need of, the market seems to have everything else, from an electric rice cooker to cosmetics that are smuggled in from the South.

Some scenes where mothers pick up their children from school or nag their kids to do their homework are depicted so naturally that the scenes could be inserted into any South Korean story.

With the controversy surrounding the drama, some wonder whether it can make a soft landing in viewers’ hearts.

The show’s writer, Park, is known for writing stories that unfold in unfamiliar settings and end up probable and attractive.

For example, an immortal alien is a main character in “My Love from the Star” while “Legend of the Blue Sea” (2016-2017) revolves around a woman who was a mermaid in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

Some culture critics, however, question whether she can find similar success with “Crash Landing on You.”

Drama critic Gong Hee-jeong said, “A story that takes place in a fantasy world is way different from a story that happens in an existing place.

“It seems like [the writer] tries to describe the people in the North as no different from us, but her description is way too excessive and it stops viewers from being immersed in the story,” she added.

Responding to such criticism, the production team of the drama came forward and said, “We tried to reproduce [the North Korean village] as close to reality as possible based on thorough research.”

The production team added that the writer was inspired by an accident that happened in 2008 in which actress Jung Yang was riding a boat in Incheon but was later swept away because of weather conditions and her boat was close to crossing the Northern Limit Line.

More detailed interviews with North Korean defectors who used to work as a high-ranking military official, a smuggler and people who used to study overseas were conducted, the production team said.

Writer and North Korean defector Kwak Mun-an was also involved in the production. Baek Gyeong-yoon, an expert in North Korean language, also reviewed the scripts.

Producer Lee Jeong-hyo didn’t want the drama to be at the center of controversy with its portrayal of North Korea. “We just deal with the North as a remote place where all the thrilling events are taking place.”

But it still remains unknown whether the fictional village and characters from the North will continue to be appealing to viewers.

Before “Crash Landing on You,” there were several drama series with North Korean elements in them.

“The King 2 Hearts” (2012) was a love story between a South Korean crown prince and a North Korean special forces officer.

In 2014, “Doctor Stranger” premiered. The drama revolves around a surgeon who is a North Korean defector who lands a job at a South Korean hospital.

But “Crash Landing on You” needs to be interpreted differently, according to Yun Seok-jin, a professor of Korean language at Chungnam National University.

“Previous drama series used the divided country as one of its plot devices, but ‘Crash Landing on You’ is a story between chaebol and a military official. They each represent capitalism and socialism. Their relationship can’t be separated from ideologies of the two Koreas. With the current diplomatic relations with the North, the drama can’t really connect with viewers,” Yun said.

There have also been more films dealing with inter-Korean issues in recent years.

And the most important task for them is how to create North Korean characters and make them well-received. It is indeed a touchy issue. If some characters go too far, they fail to gain sympathy from audiences.

The film “Swing Kids” (2018) flopped after it was said that the North Korean prisoners are glamorized in the film set in the Korean War.

But the hit film “Ashfall,” which opened on Dec. 19, also features a North Korean character as one of the leads.

Director Kim Byung-seo said during a press conference that he tried to add reality to the film’s North Korean character and how he develops a bond with his South Korean counterpart. Little things like hard candies and Coke function as mediums for the two to open up with each other.

Film critic Kim Hyeong-seok said, “A bromance between South and North Korean agents has become a trend that penetrates many South Korean films such as “Confidential Assignment” (2017), “Steel Rain” (2017) and “The Spy Gone North” (2018).

“One noteworthy thing about the trend is that heartthrobs like Jung Woo-sung play North Korean agents,” he added.

North Korean soldiers were typecast as cruel and filthy in the anti-Communism films produced in the 1960s and 70s, but diverse attempts are added to the same characters these days.

“Ever since the first summit between the South and North in 2000, more imaginative stories are pouring out. The mainstream genres are still action or genre films, but I also see more romance stories,” said Kim.

A series of films are slated to open later this year, all featuring North Korean stories.

One of them is “Summit: Steel Rain.” In the film, the three leaders of the United States, South and North Korea are abducted while they gather together for a summit.

Another is tentatively titled “Escape” and is being directed by Ryu Seung-wan, who previously tried his hand at the inter-Korean issue with “The Berlin File” (2013). The film began shooting in Morocco in November.

BY MIN KYUNG-WON [estyle@joongang.co.kr]



아기자기 동화 같은 북한 마을…‘사랑의 불시착’ 통할까

tvN 새 주말드라마 ‘사랑의 불시착’은 연착륙할 수 있을까. 첫 주 시청률은 6.8%(닐슨 코리아 유료 플랫폼 기준)로 전작 ‘날 녹여주오’의 최고 시청률(3.2%)보다 2배 넘게 뛰었지만, 북한의 사택 마을을 주배경으로 이야기가 펼쳐지면서 예상치 못한 논란에 처했다. 재벌 상속녀 윤세리(손예진)가 패러글라이딩 사고로 북한에 불시착해 리정혁(현빈) 장교와 사랑에 빠지는 로맨스물인 만큼 북한의 모습이 나오는 것은 당연하지만, 첫 회부터 전면에 등장할 것이라고는 생각지 못한 탓이다. 방영 전까지만 해도 영화 ‘협상’(2018) 이후 1년 만에 다시 만난 두 사람의 호흡에 가장 큰 관심이 쏠렸다.

극 중 북한의 모습은 그동안 뉴스 화면에서 보던 피폐함과는 거리가 멀다. 강원 횡성, 충북 충주 등을 오가며 촬영한 전방부대 사택 마을은 동화 속 마을처럼 아기자기하게 그려진다. 하루가 멀다 하고 정전이 되지만 집안에서는 자전거를 발전기 삼아 돌리며 TV를 보고, 쌀밥에 고기는 물론 국수까지 손수 만들어 먹으며 평화로운 분위기를 연출했다. 아로마 향초는 없어도 맘만 먹으면 한국 화장품에 속옷, 전기밥솥까지 구하지 못하는 게 없는 여유 있는 모습에 시청자들은 당혹감을 금치 못했다. 방과 후 아이들을 데리러 가는 모습이나 숙제를 하라고 다그치는 장면은 여느 드라마에 들어가도 이질감이 느껴지지 않을 정도였다.

제작진도 당황하긴 마찬가지다. 외계인을 앞세운 ‘별에서 온 그대’(2013~ 2014), 인어 이야기에서 모티브를 따온 ‘푸른 바다의 전설’(2016~2017) 등 그동안 박지은 작가가 구현해온 세계는 낯설지만 매력적인 공간으로 받아들여졌었다. 공희정 드라마평론가는 “상상할 수 없는 세상에서 펼쳐지는 판타지와 실존하는 공간을 배경으로 만든 이야기는 엄연히 다르다”며 “그들도 우리와 별반 다르지 않은 사람이라는 것을 강조하기 위해 만든 과도한 설정이 되려 몰입의 방해 요소로 작용하고 있다”고 지적했다.

제작진은 첫 주 방송 후 논란이 제기되자 18일 “철저한 자료조사를 통해 현실과 최대한 가깝게 구현하고자 노력했다”는 입장을 밝혔다. 2008년 여배우 정양이 인천에서 레저 보트를 즐기다 기상악화로 북방한계선 인근까지 떠내려갔던 실제 사건에서 영감을 얻어 장교·밀수꾼·유학생 등 다양한 직업군의 사람들을 취재했다는 것이다. 또 현실감을 더하기 위해 탈북민 출신인 곽문안 작가와 백경윤 북한말 전문가 등도 참여했다고 공개했다. 이정효 PD는 “단절된 공간, 긴장감 넘치는 사건들이 어우러지는 배경으로서 북한을 다루고 있다”며 정치 문제로 확대 해석되는 것을 경계했다.

하지만 대중의 불편한 시선은 피하기 힘들 것으로 보인다. 과거에도 남남북녀 로맨스가 전혀 없었던 것은 아니지만, 북한 여장교와 남한 왕자가 만난 ‘더킹 투하츠’(2012)나 천재 탈북 의사가 한국 병원에서 근무하는 ‘닥터 이방인’(2014) 등과도 결이 다르다. 충남대 국문과 윤석진 교수는 “이전 작품들이 남북 분단 상황을 하나의 장치로 사용했다면, ‘사랑의 불시착’은 자본주의와 사회주의를 대표하는 재벌과 군인의 만남이기 때문에 체제 문제와 완전히 별개로 보기 힘들다”며 “남북관계 경색 국면이 지속되는 상황에서 공감대를 얻기 쉽지 않을 것”이라고 분석했다.

지난 몇 년간 남북한 소재 영화들이 부쩍 늘어나면서 심리적 거부감을 낮추는 것도 중요한 숙제 중 하나가 됐다. 한번 “불편하다”고 낙인이 찍히고 나면 반등의 기회를 얻기 어려운 탓이다. 지난해 연말 개봉한 ‘스윙키즈’는 수용소 내 북한 포로들이 너무 착하게 그려졌다는 소문이 나면서 흥행에 실패하기도 했다.

19일 개봉한 영화 ‘백두산’의 김병서 감독은 언론시사회에서 “삶의 터전으로서 생활감을 더하는 데 중점을 뒀다”고 밝혔다. 북한 인민무력부 소속 요원 리준평(이병헌)과 남한 EOD(폭발물처리반) 대위 조인창(하정우)이 서로 마음을 여는 데 사탕·콜라 등 식료품이 중요한 매개체가 되는 식으로 공감대 형성에 신경을 썼다는 것이다.

김형석 영화평론가는 “‘공조’(2017)를 시작으로 ‘강철비’(2017) ‘공작’(2018) 등 남북 요원 간의 브로맨스는 하나의 트렌드가 됐다”며 “‘공조’의 현빈이나 ‘강철비’의 정우성처럼 잘생긴 배우들이 북한 캐릭터를 맡는 것도 눈여겨볼 부분”이라고 설명했다. 1960~70년대 반공 영화에서 북한군을 흉악하거나 비열한 이미지로 정형화했다면, 최근에는 이를 반대로 활용해 고정된 이미지에서 탈피하고자 하는 시도가 꾸준하게 이뤄지고 있단 얘기다. 이어 “2000년 첫 남북 정상회담 이후 다양한 상상력이 덧붙여지고 있다”며 “지금은 액션이나 장르물이 많긴 하지만 멜로 시나리오도 조금씩 나오기 시작했다”고 덧붙였다.

내년에도 여러 편이 개봉을 준비하고 있다. ‘강철비’의 양우석 감독은 곽도원·정우성과 다시 한번 손잡고 ‘정상회담’을 선보인다. 남북미 정상회담 중 북한의 쿠데타로 세 정상이 북의 핵잠수함에 납치된 후 벌어지는 이야기로 이번에는 두 배우가 남북한 소속을 바꿔서 연기한다. 양 감독은 지난 9월부터 다음웹툰에서 ‘정상회담: 스틸레인3’를 연재 중이다. ‘베를린’(2013)에서 남북한 요원 이야기를 다뤘던 류승완 감독은 1990년대 소말리아 내전 때 고립된 남북 대사관 공관원들의 이야기에서 아이디어를 얻어 ‘탈출’을 준비 중이다. 조인성·김윤석·허준호 등이 캐스팅돼 지난달 모로코에서 촬영을 시작했다.

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