The Korea Herald


[New on the scene] Director Kim Hee-jin compelled by stories of marginalized

By Kim Da-sol

Published : March 26, 2024 - 14:57

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Kim Hee-jin (Netflix) Kim Hee-jin (Netflix)

In her 2010 short indie film “A Brand New Journey,” Kim depicts the agony of a middle school student whose parents can’t afford the money for a school trip. Although the boy finds a way to save up money for the trip by taking on a part-time job, he is harassed by the tyrannical shop owner who doesn't pay him.

“I was attracted to the stories of marginalized people, whether I met them in my personal life or in books. So it was natural for me to shed light on the lives of such people through a story which values them,” Kim told The Korea Herald in an interview on March 20.

In “My Name is Loh Kiwan,” which is based on the 2011 novel “I Met Loh Kiwan” by Cho Hae-jin, the majority of the scenes depict North Korean defector Loh Ki-wan (Song Joong-ki)’s struggles to obtain refugee status in Belgium. His encounter with Mari (Choi Sung-eun), who is despondent about life and love, is a breath of fresh air.

“Loh's misfortunes are something that we -- as ordinary people -- can’t imagine. Although the film begins with Loh sobbing next to his mother's body on a wet, cold street, it ends by showing him reunited with and hugging Mari in a warm country. This could be seen as a fantasy by some, but I’m sure that others may view this as an opportunity for a precious life,” Kim said.

A scene from “My Name is Loh Kiwan” (Netflix) A scene from “My Name is Loh Kiwan” (Netflix)
Actor Song Joong-ki (left) and director Kim Hee-jin (right) chat during the shooting of “My Name is Loh Kiwan.” (Netflix) Actor Song Joong-ki (left) and director Kim Hee-jin (right) chat during the shooting of “My Name is Loh Kiwan.” (Netflix)

Kim joined the team for “My Name is Loh Kiwan” some 10 years ago. She initially joined the project as a writer but the head of the film's production firm, Yong Film, recommended her to take on the dual job of writer and director.

“When I heard that it would be released on Netflix, there was the pure joy of being able to see my work among Netflix’s global collection of films. But above all, I was hopeful about the positive impact that this movie might have globally, because the movie contains topics like North Korean defectors and refugees,” she added.

The movie topped Netflix’s non-English chart just weeks after its release on March 1.

“I have received many calls and messages from my friends living abroad. One thing that struck me was that a friend of mine who speaks Vietnamese showed reactions of the local audience on social media and the majority of them were in line with my intentions for the movie. It was interesting,” Kim said.

“My Name is Loh Kiwan” is streaming on Netflix.

This article is the 17th in a series that introduces Korea’s new and emerging actors and directors. -- Ed.