[imText1]”I was in despair when I heard my father had been killed in a public execution.”
Jung Sung San, a movie director who escaped from North Korea 11 years ago, was getting used to the life in South Korea when he heard his father was publicly executed in 2002. This made a turning point in his career.
The North Korean government executed his father publicly in order to threaten North defectors. He had always felt sorry about the family he left behind, and was lost by the shocking news.
After this incident he made up his mind to pursue a new subject in his career. He believed he could revenge his father’s death by revealing North Korean atrocities in the art form.
Nowadays he has been completely absorbed in making a musical titled Yodok Story–depicting prison camps for political criminals. He said he had accepted this interview despite his tight schedule because the DailyNK is one of the few organizations that realize situations found in North Korea cleary and correctly.
My first impression on him was that he should be called a director of strong personality rather than a director from the North. During the interview, he recieved many phone calls from various people involved with the musical. His busy lifestyle made a great impression.
You seem to be very busy because it was difficult to make an appointment with you.
Sorry about that. It has been hard for me to find some spare time because there have been many things to take care of. I had to continuously edit my debut movie ‘Red Angels.’ Moreover, the preparation of the musical is in full swing now.
You know, I am a big fan of the DailyNK. I visit its website at least once every two days or so, to say everyday would be an exaggeration. I even added the site to my favorites.
Father’s Public Execution Was a Turning Point
Did you have a special occasion that let you have so much interest in North Korean human rights issue?
In fact, I had a strong inclination for nationalism. I thought even if I hated the North, it was better to get along with it in order to unify someday because we share the same blood. I supported the so-called Sunshine Policy.
But I could not help changing my opinion after I heard my father had been publicly executed in 2002. Upon hearing that, I went to a Buddhist temple, and stayed there for a week without food. I pondered deeply upon my career as movie director. I came to make a resolution to reveal the reality of the human rights situation in North Korea.
Pro-North Groups in South Are Adherents to Old Times
What do you think of the Northern policies by the current administration?
As I said before, I was more or less a left winger. The movies I dramatized before were leftist movies like ‘Shiri(Coreoleuciscus splendidus)‘, ’JSA (Joint Security Area)’, and ‘Shilmi Island.’
As I converted to a rightist after my father’s death, I happened to deeply recognize that the Roh Moo Hyun administration had many problems. The Roh administration divided the South into right and left wingers, assigned most of its important positions to the leftists, and followed the falsities of the Sunshine Policy.
What do you think of the so-called pro-North groups?
This is what happened to me when I went to see the Pusan Asian Games. I was shocked when I heard the slogans South Korean college students were shouting out; the slogans were exactly like what I had heard when I had been in North Korea. I also saw college students cry out against members of some conservative groups who were burning pictures of Kim Jong Il.
The term “Progressive” that euphemizes the pro-North force in the South must be a misnomer because those who want to go back to the old times are not progressive but adherent. Above all, I do not like to assign the value of progression to the pro-North force because Kim Jong Il takes full advantage of it.
Let’s shift gears to your personal story. I heard that you graduated from Pyongyang Drama and Movie College. What was your college life like?
Yes, I graduated from that college. My major was in film-directing and production. The college is very tough to study in. It is like Spartan education. I had to use up three ball point pens to compose several scenarios and make reports about the reason of Juche literature, the philosophical meaning of movies, and so on and so forth.
It was really tough. Ordinary people were required to attend the so-called “Life Reflection“ (life in overall consensus) once a week, whereas those involved in the arts attended every two days.
Kim Jong Il ordered that those involved in the arts must be exemplary because it is easy for them to be influenced by revisionism, and because the arts are so powerful. I remember attending Life Reflection unwillingly.
13 Years in Prison Because of Listening to the South Broadcasting
You seem to have graduated from one of the best colleges in North Korea. You even went abroad to study. Why then did you leave the North?
I was quite interested in the western arts and cultures. I was especially interested in American and Korean movies. The Korean movies I saw were “Taebaek Mountains” and “The Young With Bare Feet.” I thought they were ridiculous because I did not have much idea about the Southern culture. The American movies I enjoyed were “007”, “Gone With the Wind”, and “The X-Files”.
It is normally easy for people with high ranks to see American and Korean movies. They can listen to South Korean broadcast whenever they want. I became a big fan of South Korean broadcast and I continued to listen even when I was serving in the army.
One day I was caught listening, and I had to endure beating and torture for two months in the National Security Agency. I was then sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment. While I was being carried to the Western Labor Union in Sariwon, a car accident happened in the convoy. That accident made it dramatically possible for me to escape. I realized that I could no longer live in the North and I crossed the Yalu River.
Tell me how you were investigated in the National Security Agency.
The investigation took place in the division headquarters. I was beaten from morning till night. In fact, it was usual that children of high ranked officials were just given oral warnings when caught listening to South Korean broadcasts.
I just assumed that, but I had to be treated severely because the North Korean government needed to control the people more tightly. This was because it was just after Kim Il Sung’s death.
The punishment was too severe. I had to make up stories of crime, and tell childhood wrongdoings that I could not even remember to stop them from beating me. When they appeared to be bored of punching, they stuck oak sticks between my fingers and pounded them whenever they liked.
You cannot imagine the pain. It was like electric torture. My right ear is almost deaf due to the punching.
“If Kim Jong Il Killed Me, Yodok Story Would Be Much More Popular”
Is the musical ‘Yodok Story’ based on your experiences?
I have never been to the Yodok Prison Camp for Political Criminals. But I have experiences where my human rights were totally infringed. I can also picture how my father was killed.
The important thing is that I can reveal the reality of North Korea and its prison camp in the form of art. Kim Jong Il knows how powerful art is. If we continue to disclose the reality of human rights in the North by the means of art, winning human rights in North Korea will be a reality sooner.
I heard you were threatened into giving up the musical.
I am not afraid at all. If Kim Jong Il killed me, the musical, Yodok Story could be much more popular. I decided to do whatever I could after I heard about my father’s public execution. I want to revenge my father’s death through Yodok Story.
Now I speak directly to Kim Jong Il.
“I am going to start dismantling your prison camp. Aren’t you afraid that the numerous spirits you killed are hanging around in the sky and land to help me? If you have the least bit of human nature traits, you better stop killing innocent people now.”
You seem to be really sincere about your resolution. In conclusion, will you have a chance to speak to the readers?
When I visited Europe, many Europeans shed tears as they listened to my story. But South Koreans already seem to have enough about North Korean human rights issue.
The Roh Moo Hyun administration and left wingers avoid facing this issue for various political reasons.
I am going to fight against Kim Jong Il through the means of art. I will reveal the seriousness of North Korean human rights infringement to the world. You just watch and see.