by HAEIN JUNG
When graduate film student Sungho Ahn came across a news article about a North Korean student studying in the U.S. a few years ago, the sheer thought of someone from the North being on an American campus took him aback. Of course, as someone pursuing his masters in film at USC, he then let his imagination take over. A series of questions danced around in his head: What if I met someone here, and she was North Korean? What if we fell in love? Could we find a way to be together, even though I am from South Korea and she is from the North?
Such questions eventually led to the making of A One And A Two, a short film he directed, starring Korean American actor Tim Jo and South Korean actress Hyunkyung Ryu.
A One and A Two, in the words of the director, is “one part love story, and the other, a reflection on the split between the two Koreas.” He added, ”I thought I could kill two birds with one stone.”
In the film, Jo (who starred in the former ABC sitcom The Neighbors) plays Sang-yup, a Korean American student at an American university, who meets and falls hard for fellow student Geum-song (played by Ryu of the Korean films The Servant, My Wife is a Gangster 2). But their blooming romance is put to the test once he finds out she’s from North Korea.
Ahn believes his modern-day Romeo and Juliet-inspired tale takes a different approach than Hollywood or the South Korean film industry in how it treats North/South Korean subject matter. “In South Korea, they’re too political or in the spy genre,” Ahn said. “In America, they have always treated the country as evil or in a comedic way, and the [North Korean] people are commonly portrayed as poor, skinny and bedraggled.”
As a result, audiences may find the portrayal in A One and A Two quite surprising, as Ryu’s character, Geum-song, hails from an elite North Korean family that is wealthy and well-educated. Ahn said that while doing research for the film, he discovered that many children from elite North Korean families have studied abroad during their college years.
But the filmmaker, who formerly worked at a documentary film company in Korea before coming to the U.S., also noted that the research aspect proved the most challenging, as it was difficult gleaning first-hand accounts from North Korean students about their experiences studying abroad.
“I tried to meet North Korean students here, but they kept avoiding me. They were scared to talk about North Korea,” Ahn said. “There was a guy [Yi Han-yong] from Kim Jong-il’s family who defected to the South. He decided to reveal his identity and went on television talking about his past. A few months later, he was mysteriously assassinated.”
According to Ahn, the film is meant to be more than just a simple love story. He hopes audience members will reflect on the deeper thematic message. “First, the focus should be on the couple and their sad love, but when the film is over, I would like the audience to look at the bigger picture and think about this divided country,” Ahn said. “Korea is the only country in the world to be still split into two. It’s devastating.
“When the film’s over, I want the audience to think about the two characters’ ending. About what happens to them, and what that means,” he added.
Jo said he appreciated the opportunity to star in the film because he finally had the chance to portray a character that reflected his real-life background as a Korean American. “As actors, oftentimes, we’re inserted into other people’s stories. We explore characters that are part of a larger story,” Jo said. “But if, and when, we’re given the opportunity to tell our own stories, to shine a light on the experiences of our culture, I’m so proud of that. I think we’re extremely qualified.”
The short is in post-production and is expected to be completed by late December 2014. It will be playing the festival circuit after that, with plans to expand it into a full-length feature film, said Ahn.
For more information on the film, including how to support the project with a donation, visit www.oneandtwofilm.com.
Photo of Tim Jo via Zimbio
Photo of Hyunkyung Ryu via Koreandrama