Busan Festival Opener Wants to Send "Positive Message" for "Inter-Korean Relations"

Beautiful Days Film Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Busan International Film Festival

The choice of 'Beautiful Days' by Jero Yun is a timely one amid perceptions of warming inter-Korean relations.

The 23rd Busan International Film Festival opened on Thursday in the South Korean port city of Busan with the premiere of local family drama Beautiful Days.

"It’s a film that presents questions about [the meaning of] family," filmmaker Jero Yun told reporters following a press preview at Busan Cinema Center on Thursday. "I wanted to pose questions about family, breakups and reunions through a story about a mother who reunites with her son after a long time of being apart."

The film is about a North Korean defector who reconnects with her Korean-Chinese son after 14 years of separation. Zhen Chen (Jang Dong-yoon) visits South Korea at the behest of his father (Oh Kwang-rok), but is sorely disappointed to discover that his mother is working at a seedy bar and is living with a bully. He soon learns, however, that she had been sold as a bride to his father, as well as the reason why she left him and his father.

The director, who has built a reputation for documentary films and shorts, said that he has always been drawn to the subjects of division and family as well as marginalized individuals. The story was inspired by a Korean-Chinese woman he met while studying art and film in Paris.

"She ran a bed and breakfast and hadn’t been able to meet her son back in China for nine years," he said. "I made a film about her story, which allowed me to travel to China to meet her son. I also met many North Korean defectors there."

Yun's documentary film Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman was co-produced by Korea and France, and went on to win top awards at the Moscow and Zurich film festivals. The writer-director explained that he began penning the story for Beautiful Days while working on Mrs. B.

"As its title suggests, there is a positive message I’d like to transmit to the audience," Yun said. "In short, one must reunite in the first place in order open up a conversation, no matter how much relations have worsened. I wanted to present a positive message for the beginning of inter-Korean relations," he added.

Onlookers have noted the timely choice of the film amid frequent interactions between North and South Koreas. The festival itself has also seen a big reunion of sorts, as two of its co-founders, Lee Yong-kwan and Jay Jeon, have been reinstated as executive director and fest director, respectively, after being ousted due to political pressure from the previous administration.

"My character had to endure many tragic situations in several countries, and yet she is someone who pushes on with life the best way she can, with a sense of composure," said actress Lee Na-young (Howling) about her film role.

Lee returns to the silver screen after a six-year hiatus and says becoming a mother helped her sympathize with her character. Lee, who is married to actor Won Bin, gave birth to a son in 2015. "I was able to understand many of the things my character experienced, which I had hitherto only imagined," she said. "But I did not want to limit the portrayal of my character to just a mother. She us a woman who has become strong, serene and knowledgeable about the world after undergoing so many incidents."