[Marxism] Silmido (Dir. Kang Woo-suk)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Sun Feb 15 14:52:29 MST 2004

Joon Soh, "Secret Cold War Project Revealed in New Film," _Korea 
Times_ December 15, 2003, 

"`Silmido' and the Korean Film Industry," _Korea Times_ February 2, 

*****   The New York Times
February 15, 2004
South Korean Movie Unlocks Door on a Once-Secret Past

SILMIDO, South Korea - In the winter of 1968, at the height of the 
cold war between the Koreas, 31 North Korean would-be assassins 
sneaked across the world's most heavily guarded border and reached a 
wooded area behind the palace of the South Korean president, Park 
Chung Hee, before they were stopped.

Three months later, in a tit-for-tat effort, the South Korean 
military recruited 31 men, from prisons and off the streets, for 
special training on this rocky islet in the Yellow Sea. Their mission 
was to sneak across the border, make their way to Pyongyang, the 
North Korean capital, and assassinate the North's leader, Kim Il 
Sung. But relations between the sides eased suddenly, so the mission 
was aborted.

In 1971, with no prospect of leaving this island, the recruits 
revolted, killed their guards in a military compound and managed to 
reach the mainland. There they hijacked a bus to Seoul, before being 
stopped by the authorities and blowing themselves up with grenades.

That small chapter of the cold war is now being revisited in 
"Silmido," a South Korean movie released on Dec. 24 that the 
newspapers have called the biggest drawing movie in the nation's 
cinematic history and that has caused a lot of soul-searching. It has 
focused attention on a piece of history that the government would 
rather forget: South Korea's secret war of espionage against North 
Korea and its sometimes brutal treatment of its own citizens, before 
democratization began in 1987.

Until three years ago, South Korea denied that it had ever sent spies 
against North Korea, unwilling to admit that it used the same tactics 
that the North did. But with improving relations with North Korea and 
public outcries from former spies, South Korea has acknowledged them 
and begun compensating them and their relatives.

No official data exist. But according to lawmakers who have pushed 
for compensation for the former spies, more than 7,700 men crossed 
the border on secret missions from 1953 to 1972. About 5,300 are 
believed not to have made it back.

The topic is sensitive. This month, the Ministry of Defense made its 
first public statement on both the Silmido uprising and the movie, 
saying that five people reported missing in 1968 were among the 
Silmido recruits.

Brig. Gen. Nam Dae Yeon, the ministry spokesman, said the 31 Silmido 
recruits made up Unit 684, part of an air force squadron. Seven died 
in training and 20 were killed in the uprising, General Nam said. The 
four who survived were executed after a military trial in 1972.

Documents describing Unit 684's mission no longer exist, General Nam 
said. But the government has not denied that its mission was to kill 
Kim Il Sung.

"When we were growing up, we were told that we had to sacrifice for 
our country," said Jonathan Kim, 43, chief executive of Hanmac Films 
and a producer of the movie. "Not only physically, but also in the 
area of human rights. We were told to ignore these things because of 
the Communist threat. Now we can see what our government did and what 
was sacrificed."

The movie, based on a magazine article and a book on the subject, 
could not have been made, Mr. Kim said, until the recent 
reconciliation between the North and South under the "sunshine 
policy" of South Korea's former president, Kim Dae Jung. Before, 
merely playing a North Korean song in the movie would have caused 
trouble with the authorities.

Yang Dong Su, 54, is one of six guards who survived the Silmido 
uprising. Like the other survivors who have been talking to the media 
here, he confirmed that Unit 684's mission had been to infiltrate 
North Korea and kill Kim Il Sung.

Now a high school teacher in Seoul, Mr. Yang was sent to Silmido in 
October 1970 to serve out his military duty. Although the movie 
portrays the 31 recruits as death-row convicts given one last chance 
to redeem themselves, Mr. Yang said most were petty criminals.

"They were the kind who would get into street fights a lot," he said 
in an interview in Seoul.

Most had been promised jobs and money if they succeeded, Mr. Yang 
said. But after the mission was canceled, they were kept in limbo.

What led to the uprising on Aug. 23, 1971, is unclear. The movie 
shows the government deciding that the recruits had to be killed 
because they knew too much. The recruits find out and revolt. (Mr. 
Kim, the producer, acknowledges that history is not clear on that 

Mr. Yang has a different view. "They revolted because they felt that 
they were never going to get the chance to go to North Korea and that 
they would never be allowed to leave the island," he said. "They were 
in despair."

During the uprising, Mr. Yang was shot in the neck. He showed scars 
where the bullet entered from the back and exited from the front.

Although the Silmido group never made it to North Korea, many spies 
did. Jung Gil Ryong, 50, a former spy who is the secretary general of 
an organization of former spies and their relatives, said about 200 
of his group's 1,100 members went to North Korea on missions.

Mr. Jung said he was a jobless youth in Pusan when he was recruited 
in 1976. At a mountain base, he said, he and other spy recruits 
learned the North Korean dialect and songs, and to walk the way North 
Korean soldiers did. During three years as a spy, his contact with 
the outside world was limited to censored letters to his family.

He said he went to North Korea, but he refuses to talk about it. 
Unlike many former spies who made it back and were unable to readjust 
immediately to ordinary life, Mr. Jung worked for a cosmetics company 
after and eventually became a lawyer.

"In North Korea, the system ensured that spies were treated as 
heroes," Mr. Jung said. "But our own government's attitude was that 
after we did our job, they wanted us to get lost. `They're back and 
they're bothering us' - that's the way we were treated. I'm still 
angry with the hypocritical government officials."

With the movie's success, though, the spies' stories have come out. 
Ordinary Koreans have begun making day trips here to Silmido, an 
uninhabited island near the new Inchon airport.

"This was a dark period in our history," said Han Yu Kyoung, 31, who 
had come here with her colleagues. "The government should recognize 
its wrongdoings and repent."

<http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/15/international/asia/15KORE.html>   *****

*****   Hanmac Films
3rd Fl, Heung-guk Bldg., 43-1, Juja-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-240, 
Korea Tel : +82-2-2268-6071 / Fax : +82-2-2268-2677
e-mail : Jonathan at unitel.co.kr, jon at cinelove.com

<http://koreanfilm.org/contacts.html>   *****

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