Filmmaker Min Sook Lee is six months pregnant when she joins an obsessive quest to find a legendary tiger in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates millions of North and South Koreans. Tracking the great beast, she looks for the courage that inspires those willing to travel beyond political borders to be reunited with loved ones.
In Korea, communication between the North and South remains illegal, with the exception of a few government-controlled conferences. Names are selected by lottery, but with so many on the waiting list, the odds of communicating with family on the other side are slim. In 2007, for the first time, the government announces face-to-face cross-border reunions, and Lee asks the crucial question ‘Can Korea ever be united?’ In interviews with survivors who have waited over 50 years to find out about their families, Lee gives some insight into each of their lives – their memories of home, fears experienced during their departures, frustrations with not knowing family members’ fates, and hopes for reunification.
At a war memorial site Lee is surprised to discover the presence of thousands of defectors from the north who have recently crossed the border illegally to live in Seoul. Crossing into North Korea, Lee then takes us to a factory where we get a rare look at female factory workers. Finally, after several unpredictable cancellations, Lee is one of the first to be allowed to witness a state-sanctioned family reunion.
Inspired by her desire to find connections to the country she left as a child, Tiger Spirit is a memorable portrait of Korea at a crossroads. Uncovering extraordinary stories of national tragedy, heartbreak, and perseverance, Lee symbolically searches for the mythical tiger that will one day reconnect Koreans in spirit.
– Heather Keung