Inside the hidden North Korean community of south London

Inside the hidden North Korean community of south London

Little Pyongyong — In an emotional new short, filmmaker Roxy Rezvany meets Joong-wha Choi – a former soldier who left behind his home in Pyongyang to make a fresh start in New Malden.

In her new short film, Little Pyongyang, filmmaker Rozy Rezvany heads to New Malden – a sleepy, south London suburb – to tell the story of Joong-wha Choi.

Choi, a former soldier, came to the UK after fleeing his homeland of North Korea. He now lives with his wife and children, joining hundreds of other defectors who have unexpectedly established a community in the area.

“I first became aware of the North Korean community in New Malden in 2014,” explains Rezvany. “It was the first time that I had properly considered that there was a specifically North Korean diaspora present in the UK. Then, as more time passed, and as a result of knowing people in the Korean community and spending more time in New Malden, I came to meet North Koreans who wanted to share their story.”

Despite this surge of interest, Rezvany chose to stay focused – honing in only on the story of Choi. In Little Pyongyang, the former soldier reflects on his life in North Korea, sharing the reasons for his departure, and how he feels about the home he left behind. He also discusses, more poignantly, his beginnings in Britain, and the challenges of assimilating in an entirely new culture.

“My expectation was to find the refugee experience,” says Rezvany, “people who had been driven by extreme circumstances beyond their control to escape their homeland, and were having to juggle the trauma of their past experiences with the needs of surviving today – and that’s what I found.”

The result is a quietly moving, nuanced study on the effects of loss, longing and emotional trauma. Over the course of 25 minutes, Rezvany tells a human story that is miles away from the sensationalist headlines normally associated with the North Korean experience.

“The reason I pursued this story was as the result of hearing frustrations from the community on the fact that they had experienced journalists working with the North Korean community in ways that were rife with misconceptions, agenda, and who didn’t want to stray from the same sorts of questions: How did you escape? What was the worst thing that happened to you? Tell us about the Kim family.”

“They were frustrated that human rights abuses in North Korea don’t make front page news despite the fact they were being asked to recount these stories over and over again, whilst meetings between world leaders talking about their nuclear programmes will, and jokes at the expense of previously Kim Jong-il and now Kim Jong-un’s appearances do. This, in turn, fuelled my own drive to make a film that would not be like what had gone before it in terms of ‘North Korea’ coverage.”

Watch Little Pyongyang in full above.

See more of Roxy Rezvany’s work on her official website.

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