Q&A: director Jero Yun on documentary Mrs. B. A North Korean Woman

Director Jero Yun

Director Jero Yun

The 2016 Jeonju International Film Festival had a much more inclusive attitude towards indie documentary films for its 17th edition, with the festival committee going as far as creating a special Documentary Award – alongside a 10 million won prize – for the best doc screened within the Korean Competition and Korean Cinemascape categories, respectively.

One of the films that competed for the award, and also part of the Korean Competition section, was Mrs. B. A North Korean Woman by the Busan-born yet France-graduated director Jero Yun. It took him 4 years to complete this co-production between France and South Korea, which introduces audiences to a unique woman: Mrs. B., who ran away from North Korea to China with the help of illegal traffickers. While living with her new Chinese farmer husband Mrs. B. also became a drug and human trafficker in order to earn money for her North Korean family. The film begins when she decides to travel from a small Chinese village to Seoul, presenting her fight not only for survival but also for love and happiness.

The film was screened also during this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the ACID sidebar.

Escaping from North Korea to China, Mrs. B attempts to start a new life

Escaping from North Korea to China, Mrs. B attempts to start a new life

Who is Mrs. B.?

Mrs. B. is a woman I met 3 years ago in China. Back then I was doing a research for another project of mine connected with North Korean refugees. I have been working on this topic and meeting various people for more than 5 years now. Mrs. B. who back then was smuggling North Koreans into China introduced me to a lot of them so that I can make interviews. But as time went by I started thinking of making a film about her and she slowly became the protagonist of the current movie.

When one reads the synopsis of the film one may wonder how it is possible for Mrs. B. to have 2 families at the same time – one in North Korea and one in China…

It is possible. Usually the North Korean female refugees get sold to Chinese families after they escape North Korea. For around a year they must stay with the family in order to pay back the money paid by this family to the smugglers. After paying back those women look for a way to go to South Korea. But Mrs. B.’s case was different: she stayed with her new Chinese family for 9 years while her 2 sons and husband were still in North Korea.

How did she become a smuggler?

At the beginning she wasn’t a smuggler. She was just another refugee who wanted to stay just 1 year, earn money and then go back to North Korea to take care of her family. But as time passed by she decided to stay with her Chinese family because her Chinese husband was a very kind, a very gentle man. But since she also wanted to save her North Korean family, she became a smuggler to earn more money. Several years later she managed to organize everything for them to escape to South Korea.

After marrying a Chinese farmer, Mrs. B resorts to trafficking to earn money

After marrying a Chinese farmer, Mrs. B resorts to trafficking to earn money

The movie starts with her getting ready to join them in South Korea, right?

When I met her, she was about to leave for South Korea, yes. But although she wanted to go to Seoul, she didn’t want to live with her North Korean family but with her Chinese husband. Her dream back then, 3 years ago, was to get an apartment with her Chinese husband and live close to her sons and their father but not with them. Because she felt… well, not love, but something close to real friendship and partnership for the Chinese man.

In the film there is footage of you following Mrs. B. and other North Korean refugees on the long way from China to Laos as a roundabout way to South Korea. How did you get this amazing footage?

When Mrs. B. told me that she was leaving China to get to South Korea, I realized that once she leaves, she won’t be back. And I asked her whether I can go with her. She agreed.

But that might have been dangerous…

She told me: “Don’t worry. I will be with you and I will protect you.” At that moment I didn’t have a professional camera – I only had my phone and a small camera. So the whole footage you saw during the long bus ride through China down to Laos was taken with them. Everything was improvising. Because I really didn’t know it can become a movie, I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

Mrs. B. has led a tumultuous life

Mrs. B’s tumultuous situation takes her through several countries in her quest for peace

Were you scared at some point?

Of course. There were times when we couldn’t eat or had to walk on foot for hours. Or we had to change different cars and buses. We were going from one smuggler’s area to another one’s. So we never knew how good they will take care of us.

Did the other North Korean refugees in the group know who you are?

Mrs. B. introduced me to them as a South Korean filmmaker. I didn’t want to lie to them so they knew I had a camera and what I was doing. At first they didn’t trust me and I also wasn’t taking any pictures nor videos. But since I was with Mrs. B. and we spent so much time together on this long trip, I gained their trust.

And where is Mrs. B. now?

She is still here, in South Korea. But now she doesn’t want to be neither with her North Korean husband, nor Chinese husband…

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Directors Festival News Interviews/Q&As Korean Film Festivals 2016

 Q&A: Korean-American director Andrew Ahn on feature debut SPA Night

Director Andrew Ahn

Director Andrew Ahn

During the 2016 17th Jeonju International Film Festival, the young Korean-American director Andrew Ahn came to his parents home country for the 1st time in order to present his feature debut SPA NIGHT. The movie, included in the World Cinemascape section of the fest, was shot in LA but its dialogue is almost 70% in Korean.

It is the story of a young Korean-American boy named David who tries to cope with his parents’ expectations towards his future as well as his own struggles regarding his homosexuality. After his parents are forced to close the restaurant they have been running for years, and lead by his desire to help them financially, David gets a part-time job at a jjimjilbang (spa) in Korea town in LA. He soon discovers that the place is not only used as a traditional sauna but also as a place for gay men from different nationalities to meet each other and make love. After witnessing the love play David realizes his own homosexuality, but with his parent fixated on his future success he is at a dead-end.

Andrew, how much of the story in SPA Night relates to your personal story?

A lot. It is almost as having a different version of my life because a lot of the same fears and anxieties that David goes through in the film are the fears and anxieties I had while growing up. So despite the differences – like I am not an only child compared to David, I went to college, I think emotionally it is a very personal movie.

I cannot help myself asking you about the idea for the SPA as a place to hook-up…

So the SPA… (laughs) I was out to have drinks with some gay friends and one of them told me he had a hot hook-up with a guy in a steam room in a Korean SPA in LA. When I heard that such a family-oriented space is being used for hooking up in the gay community I freaked out but… it was also kind of sexy. That was why I really wanted to make a film about it: it felt like a really perfect meeting point of my gay and my Korean identity.

Traditionally a family space, David soon discovers a sub-culture within the spa

Traditionally a family space, David soon discovers a sub-culture within the spa

How did it feel to show SPA Night to a Korean audience for the 1st time during the Jeonju Film Festival?

It was really special in a lot of ways. The film is so much about the sacrifices that Korean emigrants make in order to have a family in a country different from Korea. And so to be in Korea, and to see the country that my parents sacrificed to have me in America is really emotional. But you know, while I have been here I kind of have seen also the other side of the story: it wasn’t just my parents who sacrificed something, it was also their family here, in Korea, who sacrificed losing their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters to the US. And so for me showing the film here was a little bit like me telling that family or the Korean audiences in general that we are working really hard to make their sacrifice worth it too.

SPA Night went to the Screenwriters Lab of Sundance film festival and was screened there. Was the audience’s reaction in Korea different from the one in the US?

In general there were more questions in Jeonju as opposed to festivals in the States, there were also more questions about the immigrant experience. In the US the questions were much more about the individual and the growing and trying to reconcile one’s different identities.

Also when I was in Sundance all the gay press that I talked to was so interested in the cruising and the hooking up, the sexuality elements of the film. But also here in Korea the queer Korean people who have come to watch the movie were really interested in the sexuality elements as well. So I think in general it is very true that the Korean audiences are really hooked to the family story but still I think it depends person by person.

And at Sundance SPA Night was part of the US dramatic competition, right?

Yes. It was awesome: a US festival recognized as American a movie that doesn’t have white actors and with dialogue mostly not in English. And the audiences were really receptive – people came up to me telling me about how they connected to the characters even if they weren’t queer or they weren’t Korean-American.

It’s maybe because most people have had an experience where they faced their parents and told them “I don’t want to be a doctor as you want me to be”…

Yes (laughs). I think it is a very universal story – the story about finding yourself. Obviously it develops within a very specific context but that’s the cool thing about film: we are all human beings and we can sympathize with each other.

How did you find your own way?

Actually when I went to college I studied biology because… I was gonna be a doctor (laugh). I was going to be a good Korean boy and become a doctor. But in college I realized that even though I was doing well in my biology classes, it wasn’t something I was passionate about. And I didn’t want to be a dispassionate doctor. So I started taking film classes. I didn’t major in film because it was too much work but it was enough to get me a taste. After I graduated college I went to CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) for grad school. It was there that I slowly started to bind my personal development in terms of coming out as a gay man with my creative development as a filmmaker. It was fulfilling to me, I enjoyed doing that work. And so that level of satisfaction carried me all the way through today and will continue to.

The spa forces David to confront his identity

The spa forces David to confront his identity

How did your parents react when you came out?

I came out to my parents in 2011 and this is kind of the dirty little secret about my second short film (the one I did before SPA Night): I casted my own family in the film without telling them what the movie was about. And it was about a gay Korean-American man. I showed them the film to come out to them.

Seen that my filmmaking is tied to my sexuality, I think they are really happy that I found a lot of success with what I am doing so far. Personally they are very accepting of who I am but when it comes to especially Korean-American or Korean audiences, they get a little scared. But still I think they have the confidence in me that I am able to deal with any kind of resistance or criticism.

So it is a happy ending for you?

In a lot of ways – yes. In terms of my personal life and emotionally I am in a very good place. And I think it is because I am healthy with it that I am able to make these movies where I kind of look back at the darker, harder, more complicated moments. I really do hope that audiences see the movie and tell to themselves that yes, this characters are going through hard times but there’s always going be a sense of hopefulness and of looking forward to the future.

I still find it hard to believe that this is your first time in Korea after 22 years…

Yes. Now I am 30 years old and I came here for the last time when I was 8. It is totally different: the food that I remember, the landscape I remember… It is almost as if I had never been here before. And you know, I think my Korean when I was 8 years old was better than my Korean now.

So back home – in the States, you don’t speak Korean that much?

I don’t. I speak Korean with my family, with my parents but it is pretty limited like: 언제 먹어? (When are we eating) 빨리 가자 (Let’s go). A lot of my friends who are 2nd generation Korean Americans speak English to each other. They might drop a few words here and there but they are like 건배 (Cheers!). But it depends: some Korean Americans speak a lot more – we have a lot of 1.5 generation where people grew up in Korea as kids and then moved to LA when they were in their teens. And that’s what I find really fascinating about SPA Night: you see the different generations of emigrants.

How did you manage to have a completely Korean cast?

The casting was really tricky. One obstacle was just finding Korean-American actors: there are a lot of Korean people in LA and you think there would be more actors but there are not since there is not enough roles or the roles are really demeaning and kind of racist. People were giving me advice to cast a Japanese or a Chinese actor who could speak Korean with an accent. But for me that was the worst idea I had ever heard – I really wanted the movie to feel authentic and part of that authenticity is the language.

The other issue was the subject matter that we were dealing with – queer issues. I think it made some people uncomfortable. I really liked one young actor who auditioned for the role of David but he told me his mom really didn’t approve of the content of the film. She had said to him that if he’d took the part he would have to go to Korea and go into hiding.

But in the end we found the best actors for the respective part. Like Mrs Baek, the pushy church woman and the SPA manager, they are non actors – they are just friends of my parents who acted a long time ago but afterwards they’ve had families and run businesses. We were able to kind of rope them in and they were very happy to go back to acting for a little bit.

What about the actors who play David’s mother and father – they actually live in Korea, right?

Yes. Haerry Kim who plays the mother acted in a Korean American film called West 32nd. She did it when she was living in New York. I went through the cast list for that movie, saw her headshot and I thought she might be around the right age for the part. And so we tried to find her. And then Cho Youn-Ho who plays the father had acted in a short film that my producer and cinematographer had directed a few years ago. I thought he was really amazing. Fortunately he wasn’t doing a play at that time, so we were really excited to bring him over.

Would you like to make a film in Korea?

I would love to. But I think that if I make a film in Korea it would still be kind of from an outsider’s perspective. Because I am a foreigner in ways and then I am not in other ways. So it would be interesting to explore that kind of a grey area… I just need to figure out what’s the story, when can I make it and how do I find money…

For the podcast edition of this interview, head to KoreaFM here.

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Interviews/Q&As

Jeonju Film Festival 2016 – Hot Picks

JIFF 2016

JIFF 2016

As Korea’s primary showcase for independent cinema, the Jeonju International Film Festival always has a surprise or two waiting for cineastes in the film line-up.

Running from April 28th ~ May 7th, and now in its 17th year, JIFF’s priority in debuting new filmmaking talent from the peninsula is simultaneously exciting as well as difficult to pin down emerging talent, making discoveries of potential break out stars even more thrilling to uncover.

While it’s certainly challenging to select possible highlights at such an early stage, there are a few clues and rumours that point to potentially memorable cinematic works.

Here are Hanguk Yeonghwa’s hot picks for JIFF 2016.

Spy Nation (자백) – director Choi Seungho (최승호)

Spy Nation

Spy Nation

Spy Nation is without a doubt one of the most controversial films to appear at JIFF this year. Directed by former professional journalist Choi Seungho, the documentary explores alleged corruption in the upper echelons of the Korean government and the national spy agency, accusations that the mainstream media has largely ignored. Spy Nation has the potential to cause outcry on a similar scale as the Sewol documentary at Busan Film Festival in 2014, and is a must-see for those with an interest in Korean culture and K-cinema.

Seven Years – Journalism without Journalist (7년-그들이 없는 언론) – director Kim Jinhyuk (김진혁)

Seven Years

Seven Years

JIFF’s other highly controversial documentary, Seven Years examines the situations that have led to the firing of 17 journalists since former President Lee Myung-bak’s time in office began. Director Kim Jinhyuk details their fight to expose the activities of big corporations and press censorship in Korea, as well as the future of investigative journalism in the peninsula.

Worst Woman (최악의 여자) – director Kim Jongkwan (김종관)

Worst Woman

Worst Woman

It’s always a gamble to select films from the Korean Competition as they are from first time filmmakers, however Worst Woman stands out for one reason – Han Ye-ri. Han Ye-ri is a highly talented actress as her turn in Sea Fog can attest, and her decision to star in this film as a woman in considerable trouble who befriends a sensitive author is reason enough to check it out.

A Stray Goat (눈발) – director Cho Jaemin (조재민)

Stray Goats

A Stray Goat

One of the Jeonju Project films (the other is below), A Stray Goat has already garnered attention in Korea due to Got7’s Junior (real name Park Jinyoung) starring role. Alongside Ji-woo (Cart, Fists of Legend), the duo portray youngsters who form a deep bond due to the verbal and physical abuse they suffer, in a world that shuns them into the margins of society.

Woo-Joo’s Christmas (우주의 크리스마스) – director Kim Kyunghyung (김경형)

Woo-joo's Christmas

Woo-joo’s Christmas

Director Kim Kyunghyung, known for his wit in hit films My Tutor Friend (2003) and Liar (2004) returns to the big screen with Woo-joo’s Christmas. The story follows Woo-joo and her daughter who move to a small town to open a cafe, where they experience odd coincidences with the women who already live there. As modern cinema is so dominated by male-centered stories, Woo-joo’s Christmas has the potential to be a genuinely refreshing experience.

Old Days (올드 데이즈) – director Han Sun-hee (한선희)

Old Boy

Old Boy

Another documentary makes the list, this time in the form of celebrating arguably the most internationally recognised Korean film of all time – Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy. Director Han Sun-hee compiles footage of the film’s enormous success alongside interviews with director Park, the cast, and crew, as they recount the phenomenal achievements Old Boy amassed and why the film stands the test of time. A must for Korean film fans.

Great Patrioteers (우리 손자 베스트) – director Kim Soohyun (김수현)

Great Patrioteers

Great Patrioteers

The second K-film in the Jeonju Cinema Project is by director Kim Soohyun, the talent behind queer film Life is Peachy (aka Ashamed) and So Cute. He returns with black comedy Great Patrioteers, about a wayward young ‘keyboard warrior’ and a right-wing senior citizen who form an unlikely relationship under odd circumstances.

Curtain Call (커튼콜) – director Ryu Hoon (류훈)

Curtain Call

Curtain Call

Curtain Call is another gamble for this list, as it’s a K-competition film from debut director Ryu Hoon. However the premise, in which a once aspiring director who now makes erotic plays gets a second chance to create something of artistic merit, combined with a cast of reliable and experienced Korean actors, could result in a surprisingly entertaining comedy-drama.

Kai (카이: 거울 호수의 전설) – director Lee Sung-gang (이성강)



Korean animation has been making great gains in recent years, and director Lee Sung-gang’s Kai looks set to continue the trend as the stills look absolutely gorgeous. The film follows Kai, a youngster who is tasked with saving his village from Snow Queen Hattan who has covered the area in ice. Parallels to Disney’s Frozen are likely, but the images released indicate that Kai will be a uniquely Korean offering and possibly one of the more popular outdoor screening events.

For more information, please visit the official Jeonju Film Festival website here.

17th Jeonju International Film Festival (제17회 전주국제영화제) Festival News Korean Film Festivals 2016

17th Jeonju Film Festival Unveils K-Competition Line-up

JIFF Official 2016 Poster

JIFF Official 2016 Poster

The 17th Jeonju International Film Festival is due to take place from April 28th ~ May 7th.

Now in its 17th edition, the city has become synonymous not only for the best bibimbap in Korea and delightful hanok village, but as the launchpad of Korean independent cinema.

Several K-films that debuted last year at JIFF have gone on to great success on both the festival and commercials circuits, notably Korean Film Competition Grand Prize winner Alice in Earnestland.

2016 is sure to feature further break-out productions from the industry, and while information is still currently thin on the ground JIFF recently unveiled the K-film titles in both the Korean Film Competition and Korean Short Film Competition.

Please see below for the films to be screened alongside select stills. For further information, please follow the link at the end of the article.

Korean Film Competition

1. No Preparation for Old Age (노후 대책 없다) – Director Lee Dong-woo (이동우) | 101min

Delta Boys

Delta Boys

2. Delta Boys (델타 보이즈) – Director Go Bong-su (고봉수) | 126min

3. B Mrs.B. A North Korean Woman (마담) – Director Yoon Jae-jo (윤재호) | 72min

4. Breathing Underwater (물숨) – Director Go Hee-yeong (고희영) | 91min

Our Love Story

Our Love Story

5. Our Love Story (연애담) – Director Lee Hyeon-ju (이현주) | 99min

6. With or Without You (우리 연애의 이력) – Director Jo Seong-eun (조성은) | 99min

7. A Field Day (운동회) – Director Kim Jin-tae (김진태) | 75min

Worst Woman

Worst Woman

8. Worst Woman (최악의 여자) – Director Kim Jong-gwan (김종관) | 94min

9. Curtain Call (커튼콜) – Director Ryu Hoon (류훈) | 100min

10. Press (프레스) – Director Choi Jeong-min (최정민) | 95min

Korean Short Film Competition

1) Knocking on the Door of Your Heart (가슴의 문을 두드려도) – Director Choi Yoon-tae (최윤태) | 28min

2) May Okay (날 좋은 날) – Director Jeong Tae-wan (정태완) | 10min

3) Joke (농담) – Director Jeong Ji-yeong (정지영) | 12min



4) Zoo (동물원) – Director Kim Sae-hyeon (김세현) | 21min

5) The Game of All (모두의 게임) – Director Jo Ye-seul (조예슬) | 10min

6) Body and Soul (몸과 마음) – Director Jang Eun-ju (장은주) | 11min

7) Soar (비상) – Director Hong Sang-yu (홍상유) | 10min

8) Alone in the Rain (빗속을 혼자서) – Director Kim Ga-ryeong (김가령) | 18min

9) Deer Flower (사슴꽃) – Director Kim Gang-min (김강민) | 8min

10) Silent Boy (사일런트 보이) – Director Bak Geun-yeong (박근영) | 29min

11) Cyclical Night (순환하는 밤) – Director Baek Jong-gwan (백종관) | 15min

12) See You Tomorrow (씨유투머로우) – Byeon Seung-min (변승민) | 22min

Before I Grow Up

Before I Grow Up

13) Before I Grow Up (어른이 되기 전에) – Director Lee Joon-seub (이준섭) | 25min

14) Summer Night (여름밤) – Director Lee Ji-won (이지원) | 25min

15) The Astronauts (우주비행사들) – Director Son Gyeong-soo (손경수) | 14min

16) A Landscape between Past and Future (적막의 경관) – Director Oh Min-wook (오민욱) | 20min

17) Breathless (질식) – Director Bak Joon-seok (박준석) | 14min

18) A Tent (천막) – Director Lee Ran-hee (이란희) | 30min



19) Fly (플라이) – Director Im Yeon-jeong (임연정) | 28min

20) Hamster (햄스터) – Director Kim Sae-in (김세인) | 29min

21) The Woman Who was Planted in a Pot (화분에 심어진 여자) – Director Lee Jeong-woo (이정우) | 18min

For more information, please follow the link here.

Festival News