From The NYAFF: 'Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman' Review
Often when the topic of North Korea is the focus of a documentary, it focuses mainly on the journey out. Dramatic, harrowing escapes are recounted along with the highlighted struggles of a population held hostage. Though this is the story of a woman successfully escaping from North Korea, Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman is not entrenched in the past. Instead, it focuses on something we rarely get to see: the aftermath of the escape and the life that is built out of it.
Mrs. B is a remarkable woman who takes an awful situation and turns it into profit. Sold off after leaving her family in North Korea to find work in China, Mrs. B decides to embrace her new life. She develops a true fondness for her new husband and mother-in-law, becoming a smuggler herself in the process. Morally, her choice in work may raise a few eyebrows, but there is no denying that it's pulled off with poise. Throughout our journey with her, she easily switches between languages, negotiates deals, and is incredibly honest about herself and her work.
Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman never tries to make Mrs. B some kind of tragic figure. Instead, it showcases a clever, crafty, and very human woman who makes the best out of a rough situation. Director Jero Yun doesn't try to sugarcoat or dramatize anything — a good fit for the blunt Mrs. B. In much of this documentary, the woman we come to know is a powerhouse. One who isn't willing to let the world decide her own fate. I truly believe anyone trying to change her story would quickly find themselves run over.
What really breaks your heart is watching this tough, no-nonsense persona be smothered under a new reality. Our usually immovable Mrs. B makes the decision to go to South Korea for official citizenship and to see her two sons and North Korean husband after years apart. But by doing so, she must leave behind the family forced upon her — and arguably where her true happiness is found.
The finale of this film leaves you not with an orchestrated happy ending, but with the deep, morose longing that our titular character must feel. It's appropriate that it feels not like the end of a story, but the beginning of yet another chapter — one we may not be privy to, but one that I sincerely hope Mrs. B will be able to survive and thrive in.
The best thing about Mrs. B., A North Korean Woman is how it shines light on the grey area humanity lives in. What might seem morally right on paper becomes something you root against once entrenched in the minute details of day to day life. I cannot recommend this film enough.