Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Directed by John Arlotto, USA, 2006, 20 minutes
Deface is the story of Sooyoung, a factory worker in a small town in North Korea. He devotedly follows the rules of the government and attends the union party formed by the government faithfully. There are large propaganda posters with assuring slogans in the town, and one of them has a drawing of two smiling children saying "We are happy." Sooyoung has a loving daughter, but she dies of starvation because the government would not give provisions to the workers as they promised. Her death changes his life completely. After burying his daughter, Sooyoung sees the posters with the chubby and smiling children. Outraged by the reality of his country, Sooyoung refuses to be a loyal worker and starts to deface the propaganda posters in the town, hoping other people see them and feel the need of change. He risks his life to erase the billboards and repaints the slogans with the messages that reflect the reality of North Korea, such as "We are dying of hunger." Sooyoung manages not to be caught by Anti-Graffiti patrol which is newly formed because of his doings. However, he sees his acts lead to the death of innocent people in his town and starts to rethink his rebellion.
When I searched the Internet and found out about Deface, I was surprised to see an American director having interest in North Korea and made a film about North Korea. The director John Arlotto in his interview says that he actually saw a video tape that shows graffiti against the propaganda of North Korean government and that that video inspired him to shoot Deface. Even though I was only able to see the trailer of the movie, I could see that Deface outspokenly shows the situation of North Korea. I was aware of the fact that the North Korean environment is very much different from my country, South Korea, but it was shocking to see contemporary North Korea filmed by a foreign director. Since South and North Korea were actually one country from the same root but divided by the political ideology, it is not easy for people in South Korea to make a film that candidly shows the reality of North Korea. There is also political and diplomatic problems involved. Recently, the relationship between South and North Korea has become vulnerable; therefore South Koreans cannot help but be careful when they depict North Korea. I was even more surprised to know that Deface got nine awards from film festivals such as the Austin Film Festival in 2007.
Not considering the fact that Deface is a film that describes contemporary North Korean situation, it is still enough to evoke sympathy from the audience since it shows a father losing his daughter because of his government. I believe that all parents have the same affection for their children and desperation of Sooyoung adds sincerity to the film.
In addition to that, it is interesting that the film was shot in a Korean Town in Los Angeles. Even though the location is a city in the United States, it is really amazing that the town in the film looks like a city in Korea. Also according to newspaper articles that I read, the actors in the movies have lived in the USA for a long time, and their Korean, especially the North Korean dialect, was not that good as a native Korean. However, even though I am a Korean, I could not feel a difference while watching the film; therefore even more thankful to the actors for practicing hard to speak Korean as perfect as they can.