N.Korea Prison Camp Musical Falls Foul of Seoul Officialdom

      February 05, 2006 20:33

      A planned musical about human rights abuses in North Korea's Yoduk concentration camp has run into massive obstacles, not least from officials fearful of upsetting the Stalinist country.

      South Korean government agencies are demanding changes to the story, which they say dwells too heavily on the negative aspects of the camp, according to producers. Officials also allegedly invoked the National Security Law to warn producers against showing a portrait of former leader Kim Il-sung and the singing of North Korean songs in the show.

      After the Chosun Ilbo ran a story about the musical, one theater abruptly canceled the run there and a company which had promised to invest W300 million (US$300,000) pulled out. A key member of the production team has quit, and the director Jung Sung-san, who happens to be a North Korean defector himself, has received death threats.

      Director Jung Sung-san and cast rehearse for the musical "Yoduk Story," which deals with human rights abuses in North Korea, despite government pressure to tone down the show's criticism of the Stalinist country.

      "Yoduk Story" focuses on a camp where 20,000 inmates work more than 14 hours a day living on just one bowl of cereal and a spoonful of salt. Those who try to escape are executed by hanging or stoning because the authorities do not want to waste bullets killing them.

      But its scheduled debut in March is now in jeopardy. Reportedly under official pressure, more than half its budget of W700 million has disappeared, making it difficult to feed producers and cast.

      "After reading our script, government officials demanded that we change part of the story, saying it's too much," Jung said. "I got a phone call, I don't know if it was a government official, saying 'It's so easy to get you. You will be punished.'"

      But Jung is determined to plough on. When Seoul KyoYuk Munhwa Hoekwan promised to show the musical in its theater last December, Jung borrowed W20 million against a contract to sell his left kidney. His father was publicly stoned to death in a Hoeryeong concentration camp in 2002. "I feel that my father is watching over our rehearsals," Jung says.

      Private citizens are also chipping in. One elderly woman sent a gold ring, a jade ring and a pair of earrings after reading about the show, and an elderly man sent a box containing W500 coins, W1,000 bills and W10,000 bills totaling W10 million.

      Jung says he is always hopeful in rehearsal but anxious when he is on his own. But he believes the show must be staged. "This is not a political activity. What we're trying to do is just let people know about human rights abuses in North Korea by producing the musical. We are ready to deliver the message in the right way to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” he said.

      For more information call 02-569-4483 or go to www.yodukstory.com

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