Return of the Winter Butterfly

“Hello. My name is Park So Yeon and I am the ambassador for the North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival. We would like to ask you to show a lot of interest in the film festival and hope to see many of you there. Even if everybody takes just a small amount of interest in the situation in North Korea, that in itself will become a source of enormous strength. Please think of the precious children of North Korea.”

The Daily NK met actress and ambassador for the North Korea Human Rights International Film Festival Park So Yeon at a café outside Deoksu Palace in Seoul a few days ago as she was preparing for the start of the event this Thursday, to talk about the festival and her role as a starving woman in one of the main films of the event, Winter Butterfly.

“Being the honorary ambassador for an event is like being the centerpiece and that comes with influence, but because I’m not famous I’m not sure how effective I can be,” she says, revealing her hopes and fears going into the festival. “That’s why I’m using social networking sites including Twitter (find her: @flower_inu) to publicize the event as much as I can.”

[imText2]Despite her modesty, however, Park is not struggling to find people to listen to her message. “I am getting a lot of publicity from my sister (singer Park Hye Kyoung)’s followers,” she laughs. “My first strategy has been to target the networks of people I know like her, people who have a lot of followers. Even if we can get just a few of those people to the film festival, I will consider it a success.”

Park drew much praise for her portrayal of a young boy’s mother in this summer’s Winter Butterfly, a film based on real and harrowing events in North Hwanghae Province. Admittedly, the film did not make a colossal splash, but it did set new standards for cinema covering North Korean human rights issues, and rightly takes a prime slot at the film festival this Friday.

“It might have only been seen by a few people, but it was a meaningful film which told viewers about the real circumstances in North Korea,” Park says, explaining why she decided to take on the difficult role of Jin Ho’s mother. She expects a similar ripple effect from this week’s festival too, “Even if just a few people decide to get up and do something as a result of this film festival it will have been a success.”

Given her current passion, some people would be surprised to hear that Park had little interest in North Korean human rights issues before her role in Winter Butterfly. However, the defector-directed film completely changed her thinking, and in a sense was the first step on the road to her becoming the publicity ambassador for the film festival.

Of all the issues that can be counted within the depressingly broad category of North Korean human rights violations, Park says she regards the situation for children as the most serious. “Winter Butterfly is a story about a mother and her child,” she points out. “Similarly, Crossing is a tale about a North Korean family. It was a real shock to me to see how hard the children in North Korea have it at the moment.”


However, Park believes the film that will draw the most interest at the festival will be documentary North Korea VJ, which was shot using real footage from North Korea and pieced together by director Ishimaru Jiro, the head of innovative publishing house ASIAPRESS, which makes Rimjingang magazine.

“For people who don’t know much about human rights in North Korea I would suggest watching North Korea VJ. Emaciated children lying in the streets and the ‘clover girl’; these are really moving images. If you see this film you will not be able to carry on without taking an interest in North Korean human rights,” Park says.

Given her prior lack of awareness about human rights in North Korea, Park says she is well positioned to talk about her disappointment that many people still regard the issue as a political one.

“People should take an interest in human rights for the sake of human rights, but it is an issue which often gets used for political purposes. For example, even if there are people in progressive circles who are concerned about human rights in North Korea, the situation is such that they can’t do anything about it because of their political disposition,” she points out, not even trying to hide her frustration. “Politicians need to get involved in this issue regardless of whether they belong to left or right.”

As for what comes next, Park says she is preparing for a role in which she will portray a woman trying to overcome the scars of her abusive childhood. But don’t expect her to keep showing her serious side – although she has built up a filmography of social commentary, Park needs a change.

“In future I wouldn’t mind trying some more off the wall comic roles, rather than the dark characters,” she notes.