Organized Panel Session
When the male protagonist’s mother shows up in the 1980’s North Korean film Ch’unhyang chŏn, the audiences familiar with the film history of both Koreas reencounter their long-lost film star, Moon Ye-bong (문예봉, 1917-1999), who was the first Ch’unhyang to “speak” in the first sound film produced in Korea in 1935. After one decade’s absence from the North Korean film industry, Moon returns to the silver screen in another remake of the popular Korean folktale but this time, as the main protagonist’s mother.
As one of the most famous actresses from Colonial Korea, Moon left for Pyongyang in 1948 and partook in establishing the brand new North Korean cinema industry. By examining Moon’s screen images and her life spanning over the 20th century, this study traces the transitional moments in North Korean cinema. Beginning her acting career as a new woman embodying the zeitgeist spirit, Moon transforms her image to a “woman behind the guns” disciplined by the colonial authority and then later to a female revolutionist who sacrifices herself for the new ideologies of North Korea. Paralleling the cinematic histories of Colonial Korea and North Korea, she constantly refashions herself to the demands of the political authorities as well as the audiences. Her very own life and film career reveal distinct aspects of North Korean cinema and ideologies consumed by the masses who lived and dreamed of becoming the kind of women that Moon symbolized on screen.