Written and directed by Park Jungbum, The Journals of Musan is a gritty and bleak portrait of North Korean refugees living on the fringes of society in Seoul, South Korea. Park also stars in this deeply personal and moving tribute to his close friend, upon whom the film is based.
Jeong Seung-chul (Park), a North Korean refugee with a bowl haircut and quiet demeanour, is struggling to survive in Seoul. With an identity card that gives away his status and leaves him with zero employment prospects, he is stuck with low-end jobs on the streets that put him in frequent conflict with the gangsters that roam the area. While Kyung-chul, his friend from the North, gravitates to a capitalist lifestyle, Seung-chul finds solace in a church, where he develops feelings for Sook-young, a pretty churchgoer. Struggling to fit in and unwilling to compromise his values, Seung-chul feels increasingly isolated, with a stray dog as his only companion. When Kyung-chul gets into trouble with a failed business deal and seeks his help, Seung-chul is forced to make some difficult moral choices.
By portraying the lives of North Korean refugees, something rarely depicted in film, Park has crafted a striking drama about a man who fled a difficult life, only to find himself in an even more perilous existence. The Journals of Musan takes a stark look at the sacrifices one must make to survive in a complex and gruelling modern world. – Vicci Ho