Shadow Flowers

Shadow Flowers

i'm not a defector
i'm a pyongyang citizen.

it gets pretty depressing seeing what ryun-hee kim naked desperation leads her to, almost reverting to a child-like state in her unrelenting stubbornness wanting to go back home. scenes like her beginning a sit down protest only to publically embarass herself by being carried off within minutes, trespassing into the vietnamese embassy, or running after north korean hockey players during a unification game only to be blocked by security and later cops. it's not easy to watch, and she herself knows that with every one of these action she just worsens her situation. beginning with her misguided attempt at getting herself deported by faking being a spy.. which ironically assured she would never be sent back. (and this came after the suicide attempts.)

she is selfaware about it, but only to a certain degree. hoping the south will get so tired of dealing with her they'll just give in and send her back, even if legally impossible. 

however, kudos to the editing, we quickly rebound off those lowpoints into crucial moments each time. like intimate phone calls between her and her family back home, and even actual footage shot inside the north. following her daughter at english class and her restaurant job, her husband at his doctors office and then a bar with friends. their home. the footage is very brief, but surprisingly candid, so much so i had to reverse the first time to make sure we didn't cut to the south while i looked away. her family seems to speak freely to the filmmakers, and they even facetime her later during a facebook chat despite saying beforehand that they're not allowed to call. a heartbreaking moment unfortunately bogged down by technical issues at first on her side, not being able to figure her phone out, but then ominously on their end too, when the connection breaks and the person in the chatbox (it's her daughters account, but there seems to be some unknown guy with them?) tells her 'voicecall is not possible anymore'. (later during the photo her NK fam took there were 2 uniformed guys behind them too 🤔)

over the couple years that we follow her a lot happens in the south too though. this was shot over the span of at least 4 years, since the first big turning point is park geun-hye's 2016 impeachment, which gives her a lot of hope. what happened from then we're all familiar with, trump went kookoo on twitter and south and north ended up shaking hands shortly after. even more hope for ryun-hee. we're with her watching the live broadcast. i won't reveal anything further from here.

the most sobering moment is towards the end, when she's in her livingroom with a close friend, who unlike her is a proud defector!, supportive of her friend wanting to go back, while at the same time openly happy about being in the south herself. you can't help but focus on ryun-hee's face as her friend tells the camera about how happy she is to have left that 'strict' place. and while certainly not amused, she does just seem pretty used to it at that point, since even just walking down the street we see her encountering anti-communist, anti-north korea stuff all the time.


i learned a lot from this doc. most of it was just bolstering what i already knew of by showing me how much worse it is in actuality - like the fact that south korea could apparently still throw you into jail for a decade if you're communist? but theres also a lot that made me look at things differently. the human element at every step here, from her david vs goliath fight against the absurd situation of being denied entry back into your home, to the heavy toll this seperation brings to people from all walks of life across korea. some defected of their own free will, some were tricked, some did the former but changed their mind, and some the latter but eventually gave up. ryun-hee herself tells us at one point that she feared she would become too tempted and give into the south, which really tells you everything you need to know about why she remains so damn stubborn.

the south and north rly aren't that different when you think about the lenghts they'll go to to uphold an image. renewing travel bans on a monthly basis to instill fake hope is a cruel joke towards someone you're effectively trapping inside your borders, just like the north does.

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