“While I was studying at Hanyang University eight years ago, I looked back and thought about the incident of the mother and the child in my hometown,” Kim said. “And I realized how shocking the incident was. When I was actually living in the North, I encountered such tragic events very frequently, so I was almost indifferent to them. But everything felt different after moving to Seoul. That was the first time I decided to make a movie about the specific incident.”
Starting in 2005, Kim worked as a crew member for South Korean feature films about North Korea and its defectors, including “Crossing” (2007), “South of the Border” (2006) and “Into the Fire” (2009).
While working as a crew member, Kim was responsible for teaching the North Korean accent to the movies’ actors and actresses. But for his own movie, he decided to let his actors perform in their standard South Korean accent.
“From my own experience, performing in North Korean accent was a challenge for many actors here, and it prevented them from acting freely with their raw emotions,” Kim said. “I removed North Korean accent on purpose in the movie. I think I will do the same for my future films as well.”
Actress Park So-yeon, who played the mother in the film, performed in scenes where her character was eating dirt and drinking unclean water as she had nothing else to eat.
“I was on diet for the movie, and tried not to eat as much as possible to empathize with the character,” Park said. “But of course, there is a huge difference between not eating temporarily on purpose and having literally nothing to eat.”
The initial title of the movie was “A Mother and a Son.” But Kim changed his mind as he was finishing up editing the film. The movie’s ending is extremely shocking and tragic, especially because it is based on a true story.
“When we think of butterflies, most of us would imagine something beautiful as it searches for flowers in spring,” Kim said. “My question was, what if a butterfly was born in the winter time? Would its life be happy? In the similar context, I wondered what could’ve been different if the mother and the son were born in South Korea. So I named the movie “Winter Butterfly.”
Kim stressed that South Koreans should support the suffering North Koreans, regardless of the shared ethnicity and history between two Koreas.
“Every human being, regardless of his nationality, has a right to live in dignity,” Kim said.
“It is a dangerous idea that we should stop supporting them because most of the goods we send are distributed to authority figures and the military in the North. If that were the case, we should find an alternative way to help the civilians. If we don’t even have the very willingness to help, it would be impossible to find to support them. North Koreans are also human beings. We should not turn away from people who are suffering.”
In the movie, there is a scene where the mother burns a photograph of Kim Il-sung while cooking dog meat after killing the animal irrationally. “I did it on purpose,” Kim said. “I wanted to show how people are dying under the rule of Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. If the scene ever becomes a problem politically, I will take responsibility for it.”
“Winter Butterfly” opens in theaters on June 23.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org