Soup and Ideology (수프와 이데올로기, Yang Yonghi, 2021)

In her 2006 documentary Dear Pyongyang, documentarian Yang Yonghi explored her sometimes strained relationship with her parents whose devotion to the North Korean state she struggled to understand. Her father having passed away in 2009, Yang returns to the subject of her family with Soup and Ideology (수프와 이데올로기) which is as much about division and how to overcome it as it is about her complicated relationship with her mother along with the buried traumas of mother’s youth as a teenage girl fleeing massacre and political oppression for a life in Japan marked by poverty and discrimination. 

In animated sequence towards the film’s conclusion, Yang outlines the political history which led to the Jeju Uprising of 1948. Her mother Kang Junghi was born and raised in Osaka but when the city was all but destroyed in the aerial bombing of 1945, her parents decided to return to their hometown in Jeju. After the war, Korea was occupied by America and Russia and in 1948 an election was due to be held to ratify the upcoming divide. Ironically enough, the Jeju Uprising was a protest against division but brutally crushed by South Korean government forces resulting in a massacre in which over 14,000 people were killed. Then 18, Junghi lost her fiancé, a local doctor who went to fight in the mountains, and barely escaped herself walking 35km with her younger siblings in tow towards a boat which brought her back to Japan. 

There are a series of ironic parallels in the lives of Yonghi and her mother, Yonghi forced to undergo a North Korean education with which she became increasingly disillusioned while her mother was educated in Japanese and obliged to take a Japanese name while living in a Zainichi community in Osaka. Near the film’s conclusion after Junghi has begun to succumb to dementia, she struggles to write her name in hangul on a visa needed to travel to South Korea but is able to recall it in Chinese characters, which also hang outside her home, perfectly. Meanwhile, Junghi was also parted from her family in tragic circumstances and left with a continual sense of absence and displacement. There is something incredibly poignant in seeing her at the end of her life surrounded by the ghosts family members who had long been absent, continually looking for her brother who moved to North Korea where he passed away, and asking for her late husband and eldest son who took his own life unable to adjust to the isolated Communist state where he was denied access to the classical music he loved. 

Resolutely honest, Yonghi admits that she had little patience with her mother and saw her as a burden she cared for more out of obligation than love consumed with frustration and resentment towards Junghi’s devotion to North Korea and decision to send her three sons away leaving Yonghi a lonely child at home. An early scene sees her trying to confront her mother over her financial recklessness, pointing out that she is now retired and living on a pension. She can no longer afford to send the expansive care packages she prepared in Dear Pyeongyang which supported not only her sons and their families but whole communities in North Korea, while as Yonghi points out no one is going to be sending them after she passes away. Denied contact and company, these care packages were perhaps the best and only demonstration of maternal love available to her and the inability to send them is in its own way crushing. 

Sending her brothers away, as she emphasises against their will, was the source of Yonghi’s resentment towards her mother yet on discovering the depth of her traumatic history as a survivor of the Uprising, Yonghi begins to understand, even if she does not condone, the various decisions her mother made throughout her life. Distrustful of the South Korean government having witnessed their treatment of ordinary citizens in Jeju while experiencing a hostile environment in Japan and forced to pick a side in the politicised environment of the Zainichi community, she sent her sons to North Korea ironically believing they would be safe from the kinds of horrors she encountered as a young woman. It is the literal, geographical and psychological division of Korea that lies at the heart of the divisions in Yonghi’s family dividing her ideologically from her parents and physically from her brothers while leaving Junghi orphaned in Japan

Banned from travelling to North Korea because of her previous films, Yonghi wonders how she will one day manage to deliver her mother’s ashes to their resting place next to her father in Pyongyang, but otherwise suggests that bridging the divide is possible not least in her marriage to a Japanese man, Kaoru, who adopts her mother almost as his own patiently taking care of her and learning the recipe for the traditional chicken soup she often makes stuffed with garlic from Aomori and generous quantities of ginseng. Touched by the sight of Junghi surrounded by photos of relatives she is unable to see, Kaoru tells Yonghi that even if they disagree politically they should make time to eat together peacefully as a family. A touching portrait of a difficult mother daughter relationship, Yang’s poignant documentary suggests there’s room for both soup and ideology and that divisions can be healed but only through a process of compassion and mutual understanding. 


Soup and Ideology screens at the Korean Cultural Centre, London on 11th August as part of Korean Film Nights 2022: Living Memories.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Korean Film Nights 2022: Living Memories

Korean Film Nights return on 29th July with Living Memories, a series of five documentary films screening throughout out August at the Korean Cultural Centre, London, and Birkbeck Cinema.

29 July, 6.30pm: Under Construction (2018)

Birkbeck Cinema

Personal documentary from director Jang Yun-mi following her construction worker father and exploring the impact of his 40 years of labour on his body and mind.

4 August, 7.00pm: Halmoni (2017)

Korean Cultural Centre, London

Personal documentary from Daniel Kim who was born to a Korean family of farmers in Argentina exploring his complex cultural identity.

11 August, 7.00pm: Soup & Ideology (2021)

Korean Cultural Centre, London

Documentary from Dear Pyongyang‘s Yang Yonghi focussing on her mother as she begins revealing tragic memories of her flight from South Korea to Japan during the Jeju Incident of 1948.

18 August, 7.00pm: With or Without You (2015)

Korean Cultural Centre, London

Documentary focussing on two elderly women who were once married to the same man at the same time and continue to live together long after his death.

25 August, 6.30pm: Factory Complex (2014)

Birkbeck Cinema

Experimental documentary exploring the lives of workers in the textile industry from the 1960s onwards eventually contrasting their experiences with those of women in contemporary Cambodia..

Living Memories runs at the Korean Cultural Centre, London, and Birkbeck Cinema 29th July to 25th August. Full details and ticketing links for all the films are available via the official website and you can keep up with all the latest screening news by following the London Korean Film Festival on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Korean Film Nights 2018: Rebels With a Cause

barefooted Youth posterFollowing on from the Novels on Screen season, the Korean Cultural Centre London is back with another series of free film screenings this time themed around those who have dared to defy the social norms of their times.

19th July – Bungee Jumping of Their Own

1024full-bungee-jumping-of-their-own-posterLee Byung-hun stars as a conflicted high school teacher who begins to see echoes of a woman he loved and lost years ago in a male student.

26th July – The Sea Knows

EWBtY1xr1lnEpnQOKim Ki-young recasts the folly of war as a romantic melodrama in which a Korean conscript to the Japanese army receives harsh treatment from his sadistic superior but later falls in love with a Japanese woman.

2nd August – A Woman Judge

71d8383407a3d1bec2d8eed51ce3a6eeMoon Jeong-suk stars as a determined young woman hellbent on becoming a judge in defiance of social convention which views marriage and motherhood as the only paths to female success. Encouraged by her father but forced to dodge her mother’s constant attempts to marry her off, she pursues her dream in spite of intense disapproval.

9th August – The Barefooted Young

barefooted Youth stillKim Ki-duk (the old one!) draws inspiration from Ko Nakahira’s Dorodarake no Junjo for a tragic tale of love across the class divide as poor boy Du-su (Shin Seong-il) and Ambassador’s daughter Johanna (Um Aeng-ran) meet by chance and fall in love. Faced with the impossibility of their “pure” love in an “impure world” the pair find themselves an impasse, unable to reconcile their true feelings with the demands of the society in which they live. Review.

16th August – Mandala 

Mandala posterIm Kwon-taek’s “artistic breakthrough” stars Ahn Sung-ki as a young man who has abandoned his girlfriend and university studies to become a Buddhist monk but later meets an older man who indulges all of life’s Earthly pleasures such as wine and women.

23rd August – Black Republic

Black Republic still 1Park Kwang-su revisits the democratisation movement in its immediate aftermath as a student who hides from the authorities in a small mining village finds himself at odds with his environment while haunted by the possibility that his longed for revolution will not come to pass.

The Rebels With a Cause season runs throughout July and August. All screenings are free but must be booked in advance and take place at the Korean Cultural Centre in central London. Reservations are currently open for all the films via the links above. You can keep up to date with all the latest screening news via the Korean Cultural Centre and London Korean Film Festival websites and be sure to follow the festival on TwitterFacebookFlickrInstagram and YouTube channels for the most up to date information.

Tickets are also currently on sale for the latest teaser screening for London Korean Film Festival – Claire’s Camera, at Regent Street Cinema on 23rd July, 7pm. The next teaser in the series has not yet been announced but will take place on 30th August.

Korean Film Nights 2018: Korean Novels On Screen

Kim Ki-young earth posterAfter a brief pause, the Korean Cultural Centre London is set to resume its series of free film screenings with a brand new strand celebrating literary adaptations. Running from March to June, Korean Film Nights 2018: Korean Novels on Screen will showcase a diverse selection of films inspired by books from the “literary films” of the golden age to the recent hits of today.

29th March – Earth 

Earth-02Housemaid director Kim Ki-young adapts Yi Kwang-su’s 1932 novel of resistance in which a poor boy studies law in Seoul and marries the daughter of the landowner he once served only to decide to return and help his home village suffering under Japanese oppression.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 16th April, 7pm.

12th April – The Descendants of Cain

Descendants of Cain poster 2

Yu Hyun-mok (Aimless Bullet) adapts Hwang Sun-won’s autobiographical anti-communist novel in which a struggle over the means of production plays out against an impossible love story between the estranged wife of a communist agitator and the noble hearted founder of the school the communists have commandeered as their base.

26th April – White Badge

White Badge still 1Directed by Chung Ji-young, White Badge adapts Anh Junghyo’s autobiographical Vietnam novel in which a traumatised writer (played by Ahn Sung-ki) is forced to address his wartime past when an old comrade comes back into his life.

10th May – A Petal

a petal horizontalAdapting the novel by Choe Yun, Jang Sun-woo examines the legacy of the Gwangju Massacre through the story of a little girl who refuses to leave the side of a vulgar and violent man no matter how poorly he treats her.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 22nd May, 7pm.

24th May – The Old Garden

the old garden still 1Adapted from a novel by writer and activist Hwang Sok-young, Im Sang-soo’s The Old Garden follows an activist released from prison after 17 years who cannot forget the memory of a woman who helped him when he was a fugitive in the mountains.

7th June – The Unfair

The unfair horizontalThe debut feature from Kim Sung-je, the Unfair is an adaptation of Son Aram’s courtroom thriller which draws inspiration from the Yongsan Tragedy in which residents protesting redevelopment were forcibly evicted and several lives were lost including one of a police officer.

Also screening at Deptford Cinema, 19th June, 7pm.

28th June – My Brilliant Life + Q&A with author Kim Ae-ran

my brilliant life still 1An adaptation of the novel by Kim Ae-ran who will also be present for a Q&A, E J-yong’s My Brilliant Life stars Gang Dong-won and Song Hye-kyo as teenage parents raising a son who turns out to have a rare genetic condition which causes rapid ageing.

All of the screenings take place at the Korean Cultural Centre at 7pm and are free to attend but must be booked in advance via the links above. You can keep up to date with all the latest screening news via the Korean Cultural Centre and London Korean Film Festival websites and be sure to follow the festival on Twitter, Facebook, FlickrInstagram and YouTube channels for the most up to date information.

Tickets are also now on sale for the first of the 2018 Teaser Screenings for the upcoming London Korean Film Festival – Be With You which takes place at Picturehouse Central on 25th April at 9pm.