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Return to the Border

  • Liang Zhao
  • China, France
  • 2005
  • 56 min
  • European Premiere
  • Jan Vrijman Fund
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When the director was born in the East-Chinese border town of Dandong, the Chinese were still on friendly terms with their North Korean neighbours across the river. But ever since China established trade relations with the capitalist South Korea in the 1990s, North Korea has considered China an enemy. Travelling along the Ya Lu River that separates the two countries, the filmmaker examines what is left of the socialist dreams on both sides of the water. A Chinese man who used to live in North Korea reveals the connection between leader Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 and the famine of 1995. In the background, we can hear a propaganda song. Across the river, North Korean border guards are on patrol. In the winter months, they cross the frozen river to accept Chinese goods, while during the summer, they get the articles with pulleys. In voice-over, the filmmaker talks about his memories. Eventually, he crosses the old railway bridge near his native town to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. There, he films the inhabitants' wretched living conditions, but also a black market. His final destination is a pyramid. Once upon a time, it was to become the tallest building on earth, but nowadays it is chiefly "a monument to unfulfilled ideals."


  • 56 min
  • color
  • video
  • Spoken languages: Korean, Chinese
  • Subtitles in: English
Liang Zhao
Sylvie Blum for Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, Liang Zhao for Zhao Liang Studio
Liang Zhao
Mary Mary
Fanglei Zhang
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IDFA history

European Premiere
Jan Vrijman Fund
Supported with €3300 for Classic: Development

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IDFA history