Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

VOICES FROM EXILE : Panoptic Perspectives

The Journal of Musan: Film synopsis

Directed by Park Jung Bum. Released South Korea 2011.

Markus Bell

The Journals of Musan (무산 일기) is a film produced, directed, written and starred in by South Korean director Park Jung Bum (박정범) in 2011. Park has said in interviews that he based the main character, Seung-Chul (성철) on a North Korean friend he met while at university.

The film highlights several important themes concerning the lives of North Korean refugees. Firstly, that arrival in South Korea is not the end of their struggle to find safety and security; Seung-Chul is a character with few friends, no stable employment and few, if any prospects. Secondly, for many North Koreans in the South, connections back home are maintained with information and money sent via brokers in China; Seung-Chul’s friend, Kyung-Chol, has an uncle in China through whom other North Korean refugees send money to their families. Thirdly, that ignorance is at the root of much of the prejudice that exists against North Koreans; throughout the film, South Koreans are portrayed as having little or no understanding of the situation of North Koreans living in South Korea.

For those without an understanding of the complex and highly politicized issues surrounding North Koreans in South Korea, this film may leave them with more questions than answers, perhaps no bad thing. Nevertheless, The Journals of Musan is important in that, for the first time, the South Korean public is offered a window into the lives of a few of the 24,000 North Koreans residing in South Korea, many of whom have been through indescribable hardships to arrive in their new home.

It is my hope that this film represents the beginnings of a new field of work, in scholarly circles, the film industry and beyond, that shed light on the lives of North Korean refugees, and act as a starting point for encouraging mutual understanding between these new arrivals and the host society.


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