[KS] KSR 2001-11: _Rushing to Sunshine (Seoul Diaries)_

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Mon Jul 23 22:42:00 EDT 2001

_Rushing to Sunshine (Seoul Diaries)_, by Solrun Hoaas. 2001. Distributed
by Ronun Films (Australia and New Zealand). Goshu Films Pty. Ltd., P.O. Box
324 Albert park, VIC 3206, Australia. 1/2" Video, Color. 73 min.

Reviewed by Timothy R. Tangherlini
University of Califonia, Los Angeles

Solrun Hoaas follows her successful film, _Pyongyang Diaries_, with a new
diary-style documentary, _Rushing to Sunshine (Seoul Diaries)_. Describing
her visits to South Korea during a period of two years from March 1998 to
March 2000, Hoaas engages critically the South Korean attempts at
rapprochement with North Korea envisioned by Kim Dae Jung's "Sunshine
Policy." Following the personal stories of several main characters as they
attempt to develop a more constructive view of the north, Hoaas identifies
some of the main problems with and paradoxes inherent in the process of
opening up to the North. Perhaps the most notorious "character" in the
documentary is the National Security Law, with its harsh proscriptions
against praise of or contact with the North. Hoaas interrogates Kim Dae
Jung's policies throughout the documentary, particularly his vow to emend
or repeal the law as part of his election campaign, a vow that has yet to
be enacted.

The documentary opens with Hoaas's voice-over explaining the burgeoning
changes in the South Korean government's policies toward the North and the
seeming willingness of the North to engage with the South. The voice-over
has the potential to be mesmerizing, with its languid flow. However, it can
also come across as crushingly monotonous and unnecessarily slow.

During the first eighteen minutes of the documentary, Hoaas uses an unusual
split screen technique. Images of South Korea and, in particular, a
demonstration by the outlawed National Student Congress at Myongdong
Cathedral in spring of 1998, dominate the right hand side of the screen. On
the smaller, left hand screen, changing images of first South Korea and
later North Korea (images borrowed from _Pyongyang Diaries_), provide a
running antipode to the main visual story on the right hand screen. The
technique is an intriguing attempt to at once bridge the divide between
North and South, an attempt made all the more vivid by the central role of
bridge imagery in the left screen, while simultaneously erecting a visual
representation of the division of the North and South. Although the idea is
sound, the initial viewing experience is jarring and disjointed, detracting
significantly from one's ability to comprehend the important background
information provided in the voice-overs and the right screen action. The
left hand screen in this context acts as a distraction without achieving
the laudable metaphoric intent of the filmmaker. A montage using this
technique may have been more appropriate as a bridging element in the
middle portion of the film.

The voice-over of the documentary attempts to reinstall the self-reflexive
ethnographic approach that Hoaas used to great effect in _Pyongyang
Diaries_. In that film, the perplexed, probing voice of Hoaas acts as a
helpful guide in understanding the overwhelming and at times troubling
imagery that she captured of the North. While in _Pyongyang Diaries_ Hoaas
includes images of the standard tours provided to all visitors to the
North, she also captured moments in time-isolates-that step out of the
otherwise well-scripted presentation of the North to outsiders. This
technique is less successful in _Seoul Diaries_, perhaps because the images
are less jarring, perhaps because people in the South are generally more
willing to express themselves to an outsider. This freedom of expression,
however, clearly has its limits, as Hoaas so expertly points out. It is
this paradox-a new democracy with alleged freedom of expression coupled to
the rabid enforcement of a legal relic, the National Security Law-that
constitutes the most interesting aspect of Hoaas's documentary. In one
intriguing sequence, Hoaas captures a group of young sailors responding
with highly scripted soundbites for the television cameras in response to
queries about their role in the sinking of a North Korean fishing vessel,
an event known as the "West Sea Incident" in 1999. Short segments like this
coupled to stories such as the on-going case against an author of a
children's book that "praises and encourages" the North, highlight the
limits of freedom of expression in the south.

In addition to Hoaas's "video diary" of her experiences in South Korea, she
relates the stories of several characters, although none of them become the
main focus of the documentary. Indeed it is hard to single out one
character as the focus of the documentary even though the term "diary" in
the subtitle suggests that Hoaas herself is the main character. Her voice,
despite its persistence, never takes center stage. Instead, she shares that
stage with a wide range of other characters. One of the more fascinating
characters is Mr. Hong, an elderly man who works for reunification through
an NGO he has established, and who also visits North Korea on the first
Kumkangsan tour. His story is woven throughout the documentary, and almost
acts as an anchor in the sea of stories in which Hoaas submerges us.

A bit more time is dedicated to the slightly less compelling story of
Professor Lee Jiang Hee. Lee's children's book on North Korea led to his
prosecution for violating the National Security Law. Hoaas weaves
interviews with Lee together with interviews of the conservative journalist
who hounded Lee, and Lee's young publisher, who was also indicted.

At the end of the documentary, Hoaas visits with the well-known artist Shin
Hak-Chul at his studio, where he displays and discusses his art. Shin is an
articulate and compelling character and his discussion of one particular
canvass-a  depiction of rice transplanting-that had drawn the ire of
conservative anti-communist crusaders, and had ultimately been banned by
the government as "pro North," is among the more successful depictions of
the absurd subjectivity that animates the enforcement of the National
Security Law.

Other people who play minor roles are Hoaas's interpreters, Cho Eung-Ju and
Ha Myung-Mi, and Im Su-Kyong. Perhaps more tantalizing are the interviews
Hoaas has with several North Korean prisoners who had just been released
after decades of imprisonment by the South. The potential weight of these
interviews is diminished in part because Hoaas does not spend substantial
time with the ex-prisoners (indeed, they could be the focus of a
documentary by themselves) and in part by the reluctance of the men to
speak about their experiences as prisoners of the South Korean state (a
reluctance attributable to their expressed fear of the government reaction
to any public statements).

Hoaas intersperses most of her main stories with short "man on the street"
type interviews and visits to various sites of interest-a reunification
festival, the DMZ, the port of Inchon. While few of these shorter
interviews are compelling by themselves, the overall effect is one
revealing the wide range of views that South Koreans hold on North Korea.
With the summit meeting of June 2000, South Koreans appear to be more
willing to speak openly about North Korea-a stark contrast to the
interviews that Hoaas captured in her earlier _Pyongyang Diaries_. One of
the more amusing segments-albeit an uncritical segment-focuses on several
young middle school students who made an animated short about the summit

_Rushing to Sunshine_ would have benefited from a slightly more selective
focus on one or two main characters. While polyvocality characterizes the
South Korean political and intellectual landscape now-a welcome respite
from the bifurcated arena that characterized much of the last three or four
decades-the focus of the documentary suffers under the weight of too many
stories. While _Pyongyang Diaries_ was a personal account of travels in the
North, making Hoaas the main character, _Rushing to Sunshine_ is only part
video diary. Seen in conjunction with _Pyongyang Diaries_, _Rushing to
Sunshine_ does help provide a view of the complexities of the political and
cultural situation on the peninsula. However, unlike the former film,
_Rushing to Sunshine_ lacks a clear focus and, given its slow pacing and
large number of sub-stories, requires all of the viewer's patience and
attention. The length itself is a significant problem for classroom
use-while one might want to show both of these films in the classroom, only
_Pyongyang Diaries_ at 52 minutes will fit within the time constraints of
most classes. Even a longish ninety minute seminar would need to stretch to
accommodate the 73 minutes of _Rushing to Sunshine_.  Nevertheless,
_Rushing to Sunshine_ is a welcome addition to the growing body of
documentary films that consider aspects of contemporary Korea. Hoaas should
be commended for attempting to address the exceedingly complex issues
surrounding South Korea's relationship with North Korea.

Tangherlini, Timothy R. 2001
Review of  _Rushing to Sunshine (Seoul Diaries)_, by Solrun Hoass, (2000)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2001, no. 11
Electronic file: http://www.iic.edu/thelist/review/ksr01-11.htm

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