Creative Freedom at Risk? South Korean Film Personalities Navigate Unprecedented Probe

Kwon Hae Hyo
Credit: D.O.CINEMA, Disney Plus
Several South Korean filmmakers, including documentary directors such as Kim Jee Woon, who focused on Japan’s “Chōsen gakkō” in their films, are facing investigation by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification for unauthorized contact with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (hereinafter referred to as Chongryon). Chōsen gakkō are schools located in Japan at which children from Korean communities in Japan receive their ethnic-centric heritage education.

The Ministry issued official letters to film director Kim Jee Woon of Discrimination, Cho Eun Sung of I Am From Chosun, as well as film personality Kwon Hae Hyo, who runs Mongdang Pencil—a Seoul-based organization advocating for the rights of ethnic Koreans in Japan. The letters seek explanations for their failure to provide advance notices regarding their interactions with Chongryon officials in Japan.

According to the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, any contact with Chongryon officials requires prior notification to the Ministry of Unification. The Ministry is currently investigating whether the directors violated this law.

A Ministry official stated that during this year’s government audit, concerns were raised about the directors’ failure to submit advance notices, and they are now determining whether there was a breach of the law.

Mongdang Pencil had previously received a written warning in July for unreported contact, but they resumed contact with Chongryon officials without notification.

The Ministry expressed that there have been instances where the application of the law regarding exchanges with North Koreans has been somewhat lenient in the past. They emphasized the importance of following legal procedures for cooperation and exchanges, aiming to build public trust by ensuring activities are transparent and aligned with the law.

In response, the filmmakers argue that such a demand is unprecedented and could potentially stifle creative freedom in producing film productions related to Koreans in Japan. Concerns have been raised about a potential recurrence of practices similar to the cultural and arts “blacklists” that negatively impacted various artists, writers, and entertainers during the Park Geun Hye administration.

Additionally, the Ministry is also in the process of imposing fines on lawmaker Yoon Mi Hyang for attending Chongryon events without reporting the contact.

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