News / Asia

Filmmaker Reveals Scars Behind Divided Koreas

"Tiger Spirit" opens with Lim Sun Nam's quest to find tigers in the Korean mountains. Here, he nuzzles a tiger at a Siberian sanctuary. Photo credit: Joo Hyun Kwon (Storyline Entertainment).

Multimedia

Audio

Min Sook Lee is an award-winning filmmaker whose immigration from war-torn Korea to Canada when she was three years old left her with little knowledge of the land she left behind. That void turned into the driving force behind Tiger Spirit, a documentary about the emotional scars of war, inter-Korean family reunions and Lee's own personal journey to heal her fractured identity.

Listen to the interview:

Lee says she grew up with a kind of “schizophrenic" relationship to the country of her birth, a common experience for immigrant children. She says she was encouraged to blend into her new white community, yet constantly reminded of the immigrant’s responsibility to succeed.

Filmmaker Min Sook Lee
Filmmaker Min Sook Lee

“Once I started trying to understand what is Korean and investigating what that means, I realized that my own personal sense of being broken was mirrored or paralleled by my own country’s broken history,” Lee tells VOA. “Korea is broken as a nation.

Divided literally, but in many ways culturally and socially. [There are] so many psychological wounds that have not been addressed by Koreans on either side of the border.”

A few years ago, Lee returned to Korea to make a film about one man’s quest to prove that tigers still live in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. But her focus shifted when Pyongyang and Seoul announced family reunions for relatives divided by the Korean War of the 1950s.

Manufactured healing

The reunions, now on hold as North and South Korea struggle to find common political ground, are broadcast on national television, captivating audiences with dramatic images of sobbing elderly men and women embracing long-lost relatives. But Lee says the connections she witnessed in three one-hour meetings were superficial - the conversations stilted by memory loss and fear that their words were being recorded by North Korean agents.

“The story of family reunions to me is really a story of government manipulation of people’s lives. It makes me angry and it makes me see how so often people are used as pawns for public policy on either side of the border,” she says. “Most people I talked to who participated in them, afterwards they spoke about deep, deep disappointment and depression and anxiety and stress for the time following."

Reunification

Lee says most Koreans who fled the north assumed that reunification would happen within months.

“No one thought that the divide would be forever. They didn’t take the time to say goodbye that would be meaningful in any way,” she says. “So the break was so raw that I think many people who are alive today who experienced the separation, it’s a wound that’s never healed.”

Lee says she expected most South Koreans would want to reunite with North Korea. But she admits that was a romanticized notion shaped by her expatriate experience.

“When I visited Korea, so many of the younger South Koreans expressed they weren’t interested in reunification,” she recalls. “They thought that South Korea couldn’t afford it, couldn’t sustain the cost and burden. And they cited the German experience and, to them, that was a disaster.”

Familiar strangers

When North Korean defectors arrive in the South, Lee says they are socially and psychologically alienated from the culture. They have no idea how capitalism works, or how to use a bank machine.

“South Koreans talk about North Koreans as if they’ve come from a time machine. They wear different clothes. They speak a Korean dialect. They use Korean words South Koreans haven’t heard in 60 years,” she says.

Despite the psychological and political divide, Lee believes reunification will happen in her lifetime. She points to Pyongyang’s economic troubles, Seoul’s economic success, and the new generation of North Koreans who are divorced from their country’s establishment.

“When I spoke to North Korean defectors, more and more North Koreans are growing more disenchanted,” she says. “And I think the support for North Korean state is becoming more diminished in a real sense.”

Family ties

While filming Tiger Spirit, Lee became pregnant with her first child. Her own mother died while she was a girl, leaving Lee to prepare for a role completely foreign to her. And while tramping through Korea, first in search of tigers and later the Korean spirit, Lee found something unexpected: a sense of family.

“As soon as [my daughter] was born, suddenly the meaning of the family separation, it cleaved my soul,” Lee says. “I realized within seconds of her being born, that if anyone had tried to take her away from me, if I missed her, there is a death that happens. And I finally understood in a very deep, empathic, soulful way in a level I hadn’t prior to my daughter’s birth.”

Lee recently completed a documentary about medics in the Korean War called The Real MASH for History Television Canada and is now tackling a new challenge: comedy. She is the brainchild behind She's The Mayor, a new sitcom about Toronto city politics slated to debut on Canada's VisionTV this year.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs