Tue, May 28, 2019 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Film details N Korea’s ‘Moscow 8’

AFP, SEOUL

South Korean filmmaker Kim So-young speaks during an interview on her documentary Goodbye My Love North Korea at a cafe in Seoul on April 30.

Photo: AFP

As the Korean War raged, eight of Pyongyang’s young heroes — all members of the North’s new elite, destined for a life of privilege and power — left for Moscow to study at a prestigious film school. They never returned.

Scattered to the corners of the Soviet Union after they chose asylum and exile to denounce the personality cult around the North’s founder, Kim Il-sung, they lived as authors and filmmakers, forever separated from friends and family.

“We call the places we are born our homes,” wrote one, Han Tae-yong, in a short story. “There should be a separate word for the places we die, a word that sounds as fond as the word ‘home’ does.”

Now their lives have been made the subject of a documentary by South Korean academic and filmmaker Kim So-young, Goodbye My Love North Korea.

In a peninsula defined by the split between North and South, it highlights the Korean diaspora and the impact of separation from a unique perspective.

Known as the “Moscow 8,” the group were chosen by Pyongyang to study at the Moscow Film School, now known as the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography and the world’s oldest institution of its kind, in 1952, as Kim Il-sung’s forces — backed by Moscow and Beijing — fought against the US-led UN coalition.

At the time only the North’s brightest minds, regardless of academic background, were allowed to study cinema, Kim So-young said.

Film was considered crucial in developing the loyalty of the masses.

“The North was obviously heavily influenced by Lenin, who said cinema is the greatest art form that exists,” she told reporters. “Among the eight exiles, one studied nuclear physics before being selected to study cinema in Moscow — he didn’t even know what a movie was until then.”

Kim Il-sung’s son and successor Kim Jong-il — father of the current leader, Kim Jong-un — was an avid film fan who ordered the kidnapping of a South Korean film director and an actress in 1978 to help develop the North’s cinema industry.

Even now the impoverished country pours significant resources into movies, although many of its productions are propaganda works extolling its juche ideology and the ruling Kim family, with titles such as Under the Guidance of the Great Brilliant Commander and We Will Follow You to the End of the Earth.

In what is known as the August Faction Incident in 1956, Kim Il-sung purged party officials who had plotted against him, executing hundreds, according to historians, months after then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Stalin’s abuses of power in his “secret speech.”

The following year one of the eight, Ho Ung-pae, publicly condemned Kim Il-sung and announced that he was seeking political asylum. He was later captured by North Korean diplomats and taken to the embassy, but escaped via a bathroom window.

The other seven filed for asylum themselves in 1958, giving up the prospect of privileges awaiting them in Pyongyang. The Soviet Union granted their request, but on condition that they lived apart from each other, to avoid any risk of them mounting a conspiracy themselves and angering the North, still an ally.

They were sent to cities as far apart as Irkutsk and Stalingrad — now Volgograd — while Kim Chong-hun, the last survivor of the eight, went to Murmansk near the Arctic Circle, where he recalls eating deer meat for all his meals and seeing the sun for only six months of the year.

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