Director: Hyun kyung Kim / USA/South Korea 2023

Producers: Hyun kyung Kim, Ross McElwee

Genre: Documentary

Category: Korean conflict / War Trauma / Human Rights / History / Personal point of view

Language: Korean, English

Subtitles: English, French

Length: 84 minutes

”Defectors” explores the lasting impact of the Korean War while revealing the weight it still exerts to this day on several generations of the filmmaker’s family.

South Korean filmmaker Hyun kyung Kim grew up with the inherited burden of the Korean War, a conflict that left an indelible mark on her family and country. Her mother compulsively fills the house with items she finds on the streets of Seoul while her veteran father devours books about the war. The filmmaker’s encounter with a North Korean defector mirrors the story of her grandfather, who likely stayed in the North when the country became divided, never to be seen again by his family. Defectors confronts the impact of a brutal war on several generations of the filmmaker’s family.

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Festivals & Awards:

FIDBA 2023: Best Documentary Award: Jury statement:

''for a compelling exploration that combines elements of humor and affection within a family portrait, a historic cinematic journey, and a personal search.''

Visions du Réel 2023: Special Jury Award: Jury statement:

“Love, loss, guilt and mystery, merge and shift this family portrait into a complex reflection on migration and identity, explored through the prism of history and political issues."

Movie Reviews:

* « South Korean filmmaker Hyun kyung Kim confronts the impact of the Korean War on different generations in her latest documentary Defectors. The film, which played in competition at the 15th DMZ International Documentary Film Festival, is also a deeply personal work focusing on the director, her family, and the very meaning of “defection”. The Korea-US production previously premiered in competition at Visions du Réel, where it won the special jury awardKorea’s Hyun kyung Kim on the journey of ‘Defectors’ and harbouring guilt / Matt Schley / Screen International

* « With rare emotion and sensitivity, the director confronts the impact of the war on several generations while revealing the weight it still exerts to this day. Defectors offers a poignant perspective on the collective wound inflicted by the war and questions what it means to be separated from those you love.» Defectors / Alice Riva / Visions du Réel


Director's Statement:
''Even as a child, I noticed that my mother had many psychological issues. She always seemed angry and unstable. After my sister died, my mother began to collect things that people threw away on the street -chairs, dolls, plastic flowers, beddings, pillows, etc. She can’t even dispose of her recyclable items. Year after year, her hoarding habit continues, and in fact, worsens. Why in the world is my mother living like that? I believe it has to do with her life as a Korean War refugee in the 1950s. She was born and grew up in a relatively well-off family and dreamt of becoming a scientist until the war broke out. Her father suddenly went missing. The war turned her into an impoverished refugee girl who was responsible for her mother and seven younger siblings. I believe that since the death of my sister, my 90-year-old mother has psychologically retreated to the 1950s where she is reliving her Korean War experience, scrounging things left in dumpsters and recycle bins so that her siblings and mother can survive. The Russo-Ukraine War has been going on for more than a year and a half. Every day, I read about the atrocities inflicted upon civilians. When I see the frightened faces of Ukrainian children on TV, I think of my mother. What will happen to those children in the future? Will they be suffering depression and psychological trauma similar to that of my mother? As a child of the Korean War, I hope that my film will show how war can have an impact on people’s lives for generations. Korea is still divided after 70 years, and the tension between the South and the North continues to flare up. I hope DEFECTORS will give viewers a chance to reflect on the lasting impact of war on the psyches of civilians who have somehow survived it.'' Hyun kyung Kim


Producer's Note:
''This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean war armistice, but the existence of the Korean War is technically intact – and threatened more than ever, thanks to Kim Jong Un and his missile program. The war in Ukraine continues unabated. Millions of Ukrainian refugees remain unable to return to their homeland,  displaced like both the North Korean diplomat and the filmmaker’s mother in Defectors.  A war that was waged 70 years ago is, tragically, being replicated in Ukraine today.'' McElwee, Ross