“Yoduk Story” – a musical about North Korea’s human rights situation

After finishing up my internship with the Ministry of Unification, I decided to spend my last month touring around Korea. I visited the cities Daegu, Busan, Daejeon, Pohang, Ulsan and Gyeongju in the process.

My trip to Gyeongju was perfectly timed and was rather coincidental after having spent my last few months learning about North Korea and issues surrounding reunification. During my time in Gyeongju, I had the opportunity to participate in the 78th PEN International Congress. PEN promotes, among other values, writing and freedom of speech. This year’s theme was “Literature, Media and Human Rights.”

Photo credit PENKorea: http://www.penkorea2012.org/congress01.html

One of the programs included attending a musical titled “Yoduk Story”, which addresses human rights abuse in North Korea. Some may argue that this musical is a form of a political activism, but under PEN’s principles, it is a performance showcasing freedom of expression, and that of art.

The executive director of the musical, Jung Sung-san aims  to raise global awareness about the shocking reality of the concentration camps in North Korea, and send a message of hope as well. There have been attempts previously by international NGOs to stop the human rights abuses in North Korea, but we still need to work persistently in putting a final stop to this situation. Ultimately, I believe the only way to solve this problem is through reunification.

I will now give a brief outline of the musical “Yoduk Story,” which is set in one of North Korea’s labour camps located in the Hamkyung Province. Unsuccessful defectors and political dissidents are captured and held here. They are persecuted for any sort of allegations involving their association to the South.

The storyline of the musical follows the life of a famous North Korean actress, Kang Ryun-hwa, who is suddenly imprisoned at the Yoduk concentration camp following speculations of her father working as a spy for the South Korean Intelligence. In North Korea, the entire family is punished for the crime of one member.

I won’t spoil the plot, but one witnesses the starvation, torture and violence, the suffering, as well as rape of women inside the prison camp of Yoduk. Amidst the hatred and horror, a tragic love story unfolds between the female lead actress and a prison guard. The theme of forgiveness is highlighted, as well as the fact that anything is possible even against the odds. I was very moved watching this musical. Nevertheless, I could not help but feel angry and helpless at the indiscriminate purging of the innocents in a nation where freedom of speech is non-existent.

This musical provides yet another example of the need for Korean reunification. I want to stress the urgency for reunification, not soon, but now. Overall, the set, the singing, the dancing and the cast of the musical were of very high quality. Simply, exceptional! I recommend everyone to go see the production. It is a masterpiece!


All the photos are the property of the author’s, unless otherwise credited

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