The Korean War divided the Korean peninsula into North and South Korea, and the recent influx of North Korean defectors has made South Koreans increasingly concerned about North Korea. Misunderstandings and prejudices remain, with people on both sides having lived through war and separation, and their traumas have evolved into issues for younger generations to deal with.
The 2015 film Bukhansan (North Han Mountain) records a hiking trip with K, a North Korean woman who became a singer in South Korea. She recounts her life in the north and the difficulties she encountered in the south, and sings “Imjin River,” a North Korean song that made its way into the south by way of Japan.
The 2016 film Bukhangang (North Han River) depicts K’s crossing from North Korea to South Korea via China in a symbolic and psychological way, presenting her childhood memories, her family life in South Korea, and the mental struggles she faces at work. The way in which South Korea played on fear politics (McCarthyism) with regard to North Korea is described at the end in a detailed and realistic manner. With her South Korean daughter cast in the role of her younger self, this film shows both K’s tribulations as a refugee and the obstacles she had to overcome as an immigrant.
For South Koreans, the Bukhansan, located to the north of Seoul, may also mean “North Korea Mountain” or “Made in North Korea” (in Korean, “han” refers both to Han and to Korea, and “san” can mean “mountain” or “made”). Similarly, Bukhangang can be interpreted as North Korea River. The ideas of “mountain” and “river” are essential to Koreans, but whereas in the north, they denote existence and death, in the south, they are symbols of leisure and healing.
Bukhansan/Bukhangang is presented as one work in the exhibition with a title suggestive of the state of separation in the Korean peninsula.