When asked to describe herself, Kyoung-ok said, "I am a tiger. I like to think I can adapt to anything, and that maybe I can be a bit scary too." The tiger has been a symbol of power and pride in Korean culture for centuries. In traditional art, and contemporary political imagery, it is portrayed as the entire peninsula—not the DPRK and the ROK as divided by a proxy war by the United States and Russia.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry investigation in 2013 reported that repatriated refugees were tortured, starved and executed. Kyoung-ok arrived in Seoul, South Korea as a 13 year old in 2008 after escaping her rural village in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. To survive, she and her mother, Tae-hee, hid in a cave in China during the Beijing Olympics when there was a crack down on North Korean refugee repatriation, protected one another from dangerous people, and paid a smuggler to help them cross through Vietnam and Cambodia before making contact with a nonprofit that helped them fly to Seoul.
70 percent of the estimated 30,000 North Korean refugees who have made it to South Korea are women and face unique dangers while migrating and resettling in their new home. Through this project, we hope to keep public awareness on the North Korean people inside the country and the diaspora of people building a new life in their new home. While it is important to report on nuclear disarmament and the ongoing crisis between the ROK and DPRK, I believe the victims of the DPRK’s regime have been overshadowed by bellicose propaganda.
I AM A TIGER is a documentary collaboration with North Korean-born Kim Kyong-ok and her best friend, Sarah, who met each other at a resettlement camp during their first months as refugees in South Korea. Kyong-ok has been sharing her story publicly for over five years, appearing on South Korean television and her own YouTube channel where she dispels myths about North Korean refugees and attitudes of North Koreans still inside the DPRK. She is now taking speech-writing classes and studying English with a private tutor in hopes of sharing her story with a global audience. Part of her motivation for speaking publicly is her hope to find her older sister who disappeared in 2004 during an attempt to enter China with a friend. The friend was confirmed executed, but Kyong-ok holds out hope of finding her sister alive.