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