Friday, April 29, 2011


The Journals of Musan (무산일기)

The Journals of Musan It seems that if you are born in North Korean, you are doomed. No matter what you do, your future looks grim, if you have one. If the news media reports are accurate, you will starve to death if you stay in North Korea. However, if you are lucky enough to escape to South Korea (where else?), you will be discriminated and you will encounter extreme hardship to survive. If there is one happy-ending North Korean defector story, it is yet to be told.

Adding to a steam of recent films on the misery experience of North Korean defectors, for example "Dance Town" (댄스타운 | South Korea 2010), write/director/actor Park Jung-bum's feature directorial debut "The Journals of Musan" (무산일기 | South Korea 2010 | in Korea | 127 min.) tells another poignant heartbreaking story, which you might have heard it in a slightly different version before.

Jeon Seung-chul (played by the director Park Jung-bum) is from Musan (무산군) in North Korea. After he defects to South Korea, he lives with anther street-smart defector Kyung-chul (Jin Yonguk) in a tiny shabby apartment.

Because of the discrimination and prejudice against North Korean detectors, as well as the practical obstacles, it is extremely hard for Seung-chul to find a stable and well paying job. He struggles to make ends meet by posting bills on street walls and working at a karaoke nightclub, while being harassed repeatedly by local gangsters. The only comfort moment he can find is when he goes to the church watching the beautiful Sook-young (Kang Eunjin) singing, or when he is holding a stray dog he finds on the street.

Park Jung-bum in The Journals of Musan

While the characters are well acted and the story is convincingly told, the film only goes skin deep at this complex issue of the treatment toward North Korean defectors in South Korea. Instead of letting us understand Seung-chul's character better, the film only paints a sketch of another pitiful soul that is born to the wrong place.

Like other films on this subject, this film repeats the similar message that has been sent to North Koreans like Seung-chul many times before—we know how hard life is back there in North Korean, but for you, it doesn't get any better if you come to South Korean either. Just take a look at Seung-chul. You are done.

The 54th San  Francisco International Film Festival, April 21 - May 5, 2011 "The Journals of Musan" (무산일기) is showing at The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21 - May 5, 2011. Click on the SFiFF54 logo on the right for showtime and ticket information.


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