By Jenna Gibson
Historically, local documentaries have not been that popular in South Korea – the first commercially successful documentary in the country was 2008’s “Old Partner,” which shattered domestic records just by attracting 100,000 viewers in the first few weeks after its release. Since then, more independent films have begun to crop up, telling real-life stories about different aspects of Korea. The five films below represent some of those stories.
1. Twinsters (2015)
Imagine waking up one day after living 25 years as an only child and finding out that you have an identical twin. This scenario is not just for dramatic soap operas – it really happened to two Korean adoptees. Twinsters follows Samantha Futerman, who grew up in the United States, and Anais Bordier, who grew up in France, as they get to know the twin they never knew they had. While this film is about the two women and their growing relationship, it also touches on broader themes related to international adoption and what culture and heritage means for these adoptees as they get older.
Available for streaming on Netflix.
2. Reach for the Sky (2015)
The hyper-competitive Korean education system is not a new subject, but Reach for the Sky approaches it from a somewhat new angle – Repeaters. These students choose to spend a full year after their high school graduation focused only on improving their college entrance exam score with the hopes of getting into a better university. The film follows a group of these students throughout their repeating year, telling through them the story of a society where the name of your university can determine the course of your life.
Available for purchase (DVD and streaming) here: http://reachfortheskydoc.com/#
3. My Love, Don’t Cross that River (2014)
This touching film about an elderly couple and their 76-year marriage was a smash success, becoming the most commercially successful independent film in Korea’s history. Slow-moving but never dull, the film lets the couple’s love speak for itself – like when 98-year-old Jo Byeong-man throws leaves on his wife while raking their yard, her exasperated response indicating that this has happened many times before. In this way, the film successfully portrays themes of love, family, and endurance without any need for narration or explanation.
Available for purchase (DVD and streaming) through Amazon Video.
4. The Battle of Chosin (2016)
This PBS special retells the pivotal Korean War battle of the Chosin Reservoir through the eyes of troops who fought there in 1950. Often known as the “Forgotten War,” the experiences during the Korean War nevertheless played a key role in shaping how Americans approached the world for the next 50 years. This film helps put the Chosin battle, and the experiences of the soldiers who fought there, into this wider perspective.
Available on the PBS website.
5. Even the Rivers (2015)
A brief but helpful introduction into some of the challenges faced by multicultural children in South Korea. Based on interviews with students, parents and teachers, this film touches on the ways Korea has become more multicultural, and what that means for the children who are growing up and going to school in a country that was, until very recently, entirely homogeneous.
Available to watch free on Vimeo – information on the film’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/eventherivers/
Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Image from Epping Forest DC’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.