VLAFF: Girl From the South searches for Korean reunification activist
The Girl From the South
A documentary by José Luis García. In Spanish, English, and Korean with English subtitles.
In 1989, José Luis García, a then-24-year-old filmmaker, attended the Soviet Union–funded World Festival for Youth and Students in Pyongyang, North Korea, as part of the Argentine delegation.
As a counterpoint to the silence during the conference on the Tiananmen Square massacre which occurred only three weeks prior, Lim Su-Kyung was a beacon of bravery. The outspoken South Korean activist brought her message of national reunification of North and South Korea, which had been separated for 45 years at the time.
Her brazen approach, which electrified audiences wherever she went, clearly intoxicated García, who used his VHS camera to capture her appearances.
As if calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. army from South Korea wasn't enough, she roused even more controversy when she announced she would cross the military border from North to South Korea at Panjmunjon by foot, risking imprisonment and death.
Dubbed the "Flower of Reunification", García never actually met her in person. The advent of the internet allowed him to track news of her, including her three-and-a-half years in jail for her border-crossing, but he eventually lost her trail.
When he does find her again and travels to film her, she's a university professor who seems as wary of media as she both uses it and teaches about it.
Although she has become an internet radio show host, she proves to be an uncooperative and difficult interviewee for García. She's as welcoming to García as she is evasive, sometimes even cantankerous, inviting him along to gatherings with friends and family but avoiding and delaying any chance of a sitdown interview.
Lim's earnest passion that inspired García 20 years earlier, worn down by tragedies and challenges, has transmuted into self-defensive antagonism and Lim remains an enigmatic figure that the documentary ultimately fails to provide insight into. García remains intent on finding glimpses of the girl he once found inspiration in.
But like all things admired from a distance, the reality of being up close and personal can shatter unrealistic expectations. By default, the film becomes, unsatisifyingly, more about the disappointments and difficulties created by lifelong idolizations.
The Girl From the South screens as part of the 2013 Vancouver Latin American Film Festival on Friday (September 6) at 7 p.m. at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.