German-Korean filmmaker travels to the border between North and South
Korea, to the town of Paju, where she encounters its residents, and
their various attitudes toward the division of their country. In these
meetings, an inner division also emerges — between the generations,
their experiences and wishes for the future.
film takes us on a journey to Paju, a town on the border between North
and South Korea. There we follow the German-Korean filmmaker, whose
family once fled from North Korea to the South, as she encounters the
inhabitants of Paju and accompanies them in their daily lives – along
and with the border: These include: a tour guide, who daily escorts
foreign tourists to the border; the manager of a huge cemetery for
North Korean refugees, whose own family roots lie in North Korea; a
North Korean who only recently fled to the South, leaving behind her
family in North Korea; and a young editor who publishes books on North
Korea, although the topic is of little personal inter- est to him. In
its encounters with these and other residents, the film renders a
perceptive portrait of a country whose division has left a deep imprint
in the lives of its inhabitants.
Interview with the director
of Korea is a product of the Korean War, which raged from 1950 to 1953.
Though a truce ended the war, to this day the two ideologically opposed
nations have not signed a peace treaty. Unlike the former situation in
divided Germany, for more than 70 years, the Korean border has
prevented any exchange of private correspondence or visits from
In 1996, the
town Paju was founded directly on the border. The trauma of the Korean
War left a persistent sense of danger, which inhibited the population
of the region. It took the “Freedom Road” — designed to eventually
connect North and South Korea — to literally pave the way for a civil
infrastructure in the border region. Today, more than 400,000 people
live in Paju.
The Freedom Road, ending at DMZ
Sojin Hwang, Cemetery of the Exiled, staff
Sojin was born in Paju and has been hearing
jokes about the North Korean nuclear program since she was a school
girl. “Most members of my generation are for reunification, yet they’d
rather not witness it themselves,” says the 23-year-old. They fear the
economic and political repercussions of such a profound change. But her
own opinion was changed by her new job: at a cemetery for refugees from
North Korea, where she deals daily with people who have lost their
Mr. Lee, Cemetery of the Exiled, manager
Mr. Lee is the manager of the Cemetery of the
Exiled. As the son of North Korean refugees, he was born, so to speak,
into the Association of Displaced North Koreans. He had been
indoctrinated with an unthinking desire for reunification. In his eyes,
near-term reunification of Korea is both possible and necessary.
Ms. Pi, tour guide
Ms. Pi works as a tour guide for a South
Korean travel operator that offers tours along the Inner Korean border.
Almost daily, she escorts international tourist groups to the DMZ –
Koreans, she says, show little interest in this region. At her company,
Ms. Pi is also in charge of plans for the time after possible
Ms. Baek, social worker from North Korea
Ms. Baek fled from North Korea to South Korea,
via China. Her initial aim in China was only to earn a little money to
support her family. As that brief trading excursion evolved into a
ten-year stay, she became estranged from her family. Finally, after
internment in a penal camp – North Koreans residing illegally in China
are regularly rounded up by the authorities and deported back to North
Korea – the contact broke off for good. Now, her sole link to her old
homeland is a painful loss...
Ki Byung Sung, editor
Ki Byung (30) is employed at a publishing
house for nonfiction books. Although North Korea is a regular concern
in his job as an editor, the topic does not interest him. The country
has been divided too long – and the ideological training he underwent
during military service was too hollow. He does not feel that his
generation has any kind of responsibility for a Korean unity. “The
country has been divided since 1945. The division was brought about by
the previous generation – actually, it was even the one before that.
It’s no longer our history.”
Ullim, primary school pupil
Ullim attends third grade at Tongil Primary
School, in Paju. “Tongil” is Korean for “reunification”. Yet although
the topic is frequently dealt with in class, he does not really know
what it means. Ullim plays the piano, likes comics and computer games.
If he could choose a travel destination, it would be Australia – he
doesn’t imagine a trip to North Korea being very interesting.
shooting format: HD 16:9 color
running time: 78 minutes
Korean and German with English subtitles
screening format: DCP, BluRay