Christians to Make Inroad in Atheist NK?

Recent reports that North Korea is co-producing a film portraying the life of Paek Sun Haeng, a female Christian philanthropist who lived during the Japanese occupation of Korea and who is widely respected in the country, have raised a few eyebrows.

This is because while foreign-funded films made in North Korea are rare enough, a foreign-funded film made in North Korea that portrays the life of a Christian is something else again.

North Korea, since the production of “My Home” in 1949, has made little other than an endless stream of films that either idolize Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il or champion themes closely linked to notions of socialist virtue, including displays of opposition to either South Korea, the United States, Japan or all three, and the Korean War.

Indeed, ever since Kim Jong Il established the “Party’s Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System”, North Korean films have been mostly a tool of ideological control, while during the entire 60 years of North Korean motion picture history, there has never been a film that portrayed Christians in a positive light.

In those cases where a Christian took on the role of main character at all, the films were made to warn against the ills of religion. One such film “The Family of Choe Hak Sin”, produced in 1966, characterizes all Christians as pro-American sycophants.

“The Family of Choe Hak Sin” was based upon a play first produced in 1955, whose plot was said to have been provided by Kim Il Sung. The story goes that Kim Il Sung met a pastor in Daedong Province, Pyongyang, during an on-site inspection, whose life story he relayed to Paek In Jun, a novelist, who then turned the story into a piece of literary work.

In it, Choe Hak Sin is a pastor who receives a pro-American education from a young age, and whose family members go their own separate ways in terms of ideology and religion after the demise of the Japanese Empire.

When the Korean People’s Army is in retreat during the Korean War, Choe actively supports the U.S. troops’ advance into North Korea. However, it turns out that the U.S. troops are no more than occupiers, pillagers and criminals. Choe only breaks free of his delusion after his sons and daughters are raped and murdered and his family torn apart by U.S. soldiers.

“The Collected Works of Kim Il Sung” also states the following:

“In our country (North Korea), even religious leaders have been transformed. In one village before the war, there was a pastor who stayed home and did nothing but criticize our Party, just waiting for the U.S. imperialists to take over. When the KPA retreated, he was the first to welcome them with the U.S. national flag in hand. But the U.S. invaders had no sooner set their foot inside the village than they looted the villagers’ poultry and sexually abused the women. They even violated the pastor’s daughter. Seeing this, the pastor realized that the U.S. came to deceive people using Jesus, and from that point on, he discarded his belief in Jesus. When the KPA came marching in again, he welcomed the troops with the Republic’s national flag. He has been working for the Party ever since.”

One North Korean defector who crossed the border in 2009 from a position in the art industry agreed that North Korea agreeing to make the film is unusual, saying, “It is atypical of North Korea to make a movie portraying a Christian. But as there is Kim Il Sung’s ‘official’ evaluation of Paek Sun Haeng as a ‘woman who practiced exemplary frugality’, the scenario of the movie will be based on that evaluation.”