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'Dear Pyongyang' for Dear Dad

2006/11/23 | 177 views | Permalink | Source

By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter

A person's life story is a good source for a documentary. People have their own pains, happy memories and sorrows, only different by degree.

But unique stories become more powerful when they obtain universality, which is the case with the documentary film "Dear Pyongyang".

Directed by Yonghi Yang, the documentary centers on the separation of a passionate communist family who clash over politics. But it is also a story of reconciliation between a father and daughter, who overcome ideological issues.

The film begins with a brief introduction of modern Korean history _ the Japanese colonial period, Korea's liberation, the division of the North and South by Western powers, the Korean War and the ongoing tension between the two Koreas.

In the center of the turbulent period is Yang's family. They settled in Japan along with other ethnic Koreans, who were divided into pro-North and pro-South groups.

Yang's father was a passionate leader of the pro-North movement in Japan. In the 1970s, he even sent his three young sons to the North, which was then wealthier than the South. His sons were among some 88,000 Koreans living in Japan who decided to return to their "motherland", North Korea, avoiding discrimination in Japan and hoping for a better life.

However, the economy and political situation in the North deteriorated. Many suffered poverty and political confusion, but they were not allowed to return to Japan. The Yang family's tragedy begins.

Since the sons left, their parents regularly sent packages of basic necessities to their sons. The sons now have their own families in impoverished North Korea.

As the only daughter who remains with her parents in Japan, Yonghi Yang suffers from inner anger. She could not understand her father's decision and misses her older brothers. She leads a life of conflict, staying away from her father for a long time.

But through a camera lens, void of a political position, she attempts to see and understand her father. The camera gives them a certain emotional distance, but that is soon reduced drastically.

She is now able to ask her father questions that he has avoided _ questions of his ideological faith, his passion for the communist nation and his heydays as a communist activist.

She gives him pocket money following a New Year's Day tradition and also jokes around with him. Her father tells her how he proposed to her mother, sings a song for her and hopes that his single daughter in her late 30s will soon marry.

She can now see and understand him, not only as a communist but as her father; a man who still shows a loyalty to Pyongyang but, at the same time, regrets losing his sons.

Despite some technical flaws as a documentary, it successfully follows the full length of a family story with shabby black and white photos, video clips, interviews with various people and images of Pyongyang that she filmed when they went there to meet her three brothers.

In the end, she may not be fully able to answer the question of the meaning of the motherland to her and her father. But Yonghi Yang gives the audience an answer to the question of the meaning of a family.

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