Musical brings Korean horrors home (Charles Scanlon, 3/27/06, BBC)

It is probably the least cheerful musical since Les Miserables – a three-hour song and dance extravaganza set in one of North Korea’s notorious labour camps.

Yoduk Story opens with goose-stepping communist soldiers and rousing revolutionary arias. Before long the action shifts to the hell of Yoduk – a North Korean prison camp that is believed to hold 20,000 political prisoners and their families.

It is the harrowing story of a celebrated state actress, who is sent to the camp with the rest of her family after her father is arrested as a spy – common practice in the North, where families down to the third generation are held accountable for the crimes of relatives. […]

South Korean officials says privately that the North is holding some 200,000 political prisoners – but they argue that engagement rather than direct confrontation is the best way to bring about change.

Almost the entire musical is set at the Yoduk camp – it is portrayed as a nightmare world of public executions, rape and starvation.

The heroine is raped by the camp commander and bears him a child – but later survives to forgive him.

The theme may be too dark for some, especially younger South Koreans, many of whom find it hard to conceive of the horrors taking place just across the border.

“I’d heard of the camps but never took much interest. Seeing it has really shocked me – it’s helped me to care more about what’s happening,” said Park Bang-hee, a student in her 20s, after the curtain went down.

The production can count on the enthusiasm of conservative and Christian groups – and is likely to spur debate on North Korean human rights, which have been overlooked in the rush to reconciliation.

Yes, who else cares about human rights these days but conservatives and Christians?

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