neues asiatisches kino


PAJU - The Inner Division

You already made one film in South Korea: DIENSTAG UND EIN BISSCHEN MITTWOCH (Tuesday and a Bit of Wednesday), in which you portrayed the daily routine of a Korean high school student. What prompted you to return, ten years later, to shoot another film in Korea?

The first impulse came during a guided visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. There was really nothing to see – just some trees, a few buildings, and a bit of barbed wire. What mainly impressed me was how the (South Korean) tour guide, in her moderation, succeeded in projecting so much significance onto that bit of nothing, it left you feeling you had witnessed something special, even something especially dangerous. I returned to Paju several years later to visit a friend. As I talked to her, I realized that the area along the border isn’t perceived as dangerous, at all, by South Koreans. Some of them aren’t even aware where the border runs, or which mountain in the landscape is in the North, or in the South. I initially found it odd, of course, that these things had scarcely any significance to them or their daily lives.

The film begins quite differently, though – with your family history.

My mother’s family is originally from North Korea. Just before the Korean War, they fled to the South. Later, my grandparents were buried in Paju, in a cemetery for refugees from North Korea.

Starting off with the filmmaker’s family history, the film then significantly widens its scope. What is your “field of investigation” in this film project?

I asked myself what traces the division has left in modern South Korea. There are many different answers, of course. Seeking to reflect these differences, I selected my protagonists from various age groups and professions. From the outset, for example, I wanted to include a tour guide, because I found it interesting that the division of Korea is her livelihood, her rice and kimchi, so to speak.

What does the division of Korea mean to you, and did the film change your attitude?

To put it provocatively, I don’t believe in the Korean division, at least not in its current form. It is a relic from the Cold War, which by the twenty-first century should have been overcome. The film led me to understand the extent to which the people of Korea have internalized the division and are living with it. And it showed me that any discussion of any kind of reunification must focus not only on how to overcome the external (political) division of two nations – the more significant question may be how to reconcile the inner division of their inhabitants’ mind sets.

Interview: Florian Geierstanger

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