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01(Movie Review)'South Over the Border,' touching romance of N. Korean defectors

All News 09:07 April 30, 2006

By Kim Hyun

SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) -- "South Over the Border" directed by Ahn Pan-suk tells a story of a young North Korean defector struggling to adjust in the South, with his fiancee left behind in the North. But when she manages to cross the border, can he lose whatever he has earned in the new home to be reunited with her?

The debut film by the television producer-turned-director weaves the story by overlapping the scenery of Pyongyang and Seoul, the old and new homes of the characters. Among a growing number of South Korean movies that deal with the division of the Korean Peninsula, it stands out as the first romantic drama about two young North Korean individuals who face the change of their fate in the South.

Kim Son-ho, played by Cha Seung-won, is a horn player in Pyongyang's Mansudae Art Troupe, living a well-to-do life thanks to his grandfather who reportedly died during a battle with South Korea in the Korean War. He has a fiancee, the love of his life, played by Jo Yi-Jin, who had confessed her love, saying "There was a big problem with your orchestra today. I couldn't hear anything but the horn."

But letters secretly arrive from his grandfather in Seoul, and his family decides to defect from the country to meet the grandfather and to avoid cruel punishment for their illegal communication.

The movie is an honest reflection of northern defectors' lives in many ways. It shows what really happens to them without dramatic creation or cinematic effects. The family crosses the Amnok River, a border with China, sneaks into remote places in China and dashes into the German embassy in Beijing to be brought to Seoul, a familiar course of the risky travel of many defectors.

But when they arrive in Seoul, things happen in a different way than they expected. With the grandfather dead, they are unwelcome guests to their southern kin, and Son-ho's plan to bring his fiance from Pyongyang evaporates from a fraud by brokers who take all the settlement money he received from the South Korean government as their commission.

The horn player becomes a noodle deliveryman and a nightclub waiter in bustling Seoul, but during the struggles meets a tender-hearted South Korean woman who helps him adjust and gets married to her.

When he thinks he is finally adjusting, his fiancee makes her way to Seoul to be reunited with him. She had crossed Chinese deserts and Vietnamese jungles to be with him, with her leg wounded by a gun shot.

They used to date in Okryukwan, a famous "naengmyeon" (cold noodle) restaurant in Pyongyang, and dance among the crowds on the birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung at the large square of a train station embroidered with tens of thousands of roses. In Seoul, they are outsiders who try to appear normal in McDonald's restaurants and amusement parks.

They share uncomfortable feelings from the westernized South.

"It tastes okay... To live here, I will have to get used to the culture of the American empire," says Yon-hwa, biting into a McDonald's hamburger.

Glancing round to make sure nobody is listening, Son-ho agrees in a bitter voice, "If you don't know English here, you can't even watch television."

But how long can he pretend everything is the same as in Pyongyang?

The last scene of the movie is an emotional scene both for Son-ho and the audience: the beautiful face of Yon-hwa in her wedding photo is both smiling and crying, as a person who swallowed the bitter rule of life: Things end. Let the bygones be bygones.

The movie was shot in local regions in South Korea, with much of its 70-billion-won budget spent to recreate the grand scale of the North Korean festival and buildings. The actors were instructed in North Korean accents and customs by northern defectors, including Kim Cheol-yong who participated in the production as an assistant director.

"South Over the Border" is to be released across South Korea on May 4.


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