- DMZ Crossing: Performing Emotional Citizenship Along the Korean Border by Suk-Young Kim
DMZ Crossing, Suk-Young Kim’s descriptive and informative book on the diverse genres related to inter-Korean border crossing, narrates the tragic and paradoxical history of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) through the performative acts of real or fictional border crossers in the South and North. Examining border crossing through the lens of performance studies, explaining performativity in connection with the trauma of the Korean War and the division, and gauging the ironic nature of the memorial and commercial tourism derived from the DMZ, the author considers a series of political, ideological, and cultural contradictions surrounding the border, border crossing, and border crossers. Offering a clear overview of the division since the 1950s, she introduces relevant stage plays, feature films, documentary films, and museum exhibitions; presents the DMZ in the context of lingering controversies associated with the Cold War; and ultimately appeals to a wide readership with her approach to border crossing as “a high-stakes performative act with consequences” (p. 7).
Interpreting the DMZ as an active stage, each chapter details two relevant case studies: one from the South and the other from the North. The first two chapters focus on fictional genres, stage plays and feature films, reflecting the early notions of the division and border crossing in each state via stories about separated families who long to reunite. Chapter 1 examines two 1958 plays: Yu Chi-jin’s Thus Flows the Han River (South) and Sin Go-song’s [End Page 254] Ten Years (North). Both dramatize the tragic conflicts among family members (or potential family members) initiated by border crossing during the Korean War. In her treatment of Yu’s play, for example, the author focuses on the female characters with separated families (such as Huisuk, Jeongae, and Cleopatra) and underscores the hopelessness of physical and psychological unification, highlighted through the tragic ending of the young lovers, Cheol and Huisuk. Stressing the impossibility of family reunion, the author concludes that the two plays, following each state’s ideology within the broader scope of international Cold War politics, ultimately “alert citizens about the dangers of free crossing” (p. 18). Chapter 2 compares and contrasts the South Korean film The DMZ (1965) and the North Korean film The Fates of Geumhui and Eunhui (1975), both of which feature the tragic separation of siblings during the Korean War. While the first film tells the story of a boy and girl who, in process of finding their respective mothers, become like brother and sister, experience both separation and unification in the DMZ, and fail tragically to escape the DMZ, the second film presents twin sisters who are separated during their childhood and experience antithetical lives in the North (life of abundance) and the South (life of misery). The author states that despite the similar topic of separated siblings, the negative and hostile description of the opposing side reflects each state’s political regulation of the inter-Korean relationship in the 1960s and 1970s.
The next two chapters analyze two documentary films and museum exhibitions that reflect historical people and events. Chapter 3 introduces stories of political border crossers from each side, using documentary films to trace their double border crossings, likely because access to these people directly would be difficult. The North Korean state documentary Praise to Lim Su-kyung, the Flower of Unification (1989) follows every step of South Korean Lim Su-kyung’s short illegal visit to the North participate in the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1989, praising her as a heroic martyr for unification. On the other hand, the South Korean independent documentary Repatriation (2003) follows a group of North Korean spies imprisoned in South Korea. Through their daily routines and austere relationships with South Koreans, as well as their unceasing request for repatriation to the North, the author asserts that strong kinship cannot be broken, even by the state. Chapter 4 examines the state museum exhibitions on both sides, focusing on...