October 17, 2009

"Tiger Spirit" -- A Documentary Film on Korean Reunification

Films on Korean reunification issues are scarce, as the news media is mainly preoccupied with the security issue and bypasses the underlying issues of the division and its impact on average Koreans. This new documentary film by a Korean-Canadian filmmaker Min Sook Lee, supported by the National Film Board of Canada, sheds some light on the latter. The following is a description of the film from the film site:

The psychic scar shared by millions of people, separated from their families during the Korean War in the 1950s, is symbolized by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing communist North from capitalist South. Here, along this infamous border, award-winning filmmaker Min Sook Lee sets out on a revelatory, emotion-charged journey into Korea’s broken heart, exploring the rhetoric and realism of reunification through the extraordinary stories of ordinary people.

Tiger Spirit begins in the Korean foothills, where the filmmaker joins former TV videographer Lim Sun Nam in his obsessive quest to prove tigers still live in the DMZ’s swath of wilderness. A powerful symbol of resilience in Korean mythology, the tiger once roamed the peninsula but is thought extinct in the region. Lim believes finding the tiger will reconnect Koreans to their spirit and fuel the reunification train.

But a tiger’s stripes extend beyond its fur. Inspired by her desire to understand the country she left as a child when her family moved to Canada, Lee takes us deeper than symbols, asking the crucial question—how will the two Koreas be put back together?

We meet stoic elderly Koreans holding out for news of long lost relatives in the North. We encounter the fractured lives of younger defectors, including a woman who relives her harrowing escape story every day working as a tour guide at a war memorial site.

Crossing the DMZ into North Korea, we visit an inter-Korean economic project in Kaesong, the ancient capital. And we gain unprecedented access to state-sanctioned family reunions held at a high security “resort,” where we witness the Kim family’s heart-wrenching meeting with a relative they haven’t seen for 50 years.

An eloquent tale of longing and hope, Tiger Spirit is unforgettable portrait of Korea at a crossroads.

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