Byun Young-joo

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Byun Young-joo
Born (1966-12-20) December 20, 1966 (age 50)
South Korea
Education Ewha Womans University - Law
Chung-Ang University Graduate School of Advanced Imaging Science, Multimedia and Film
Occupation Film director
Korean name
Hangul 변영주
Hanja 邊永姝
Revised Romanization Byeon Yeong-ju
McCune–Reischauer Pyŏn Yŏngju

Byun Young-joo (born December 20, 1966) is a South Korean film director. Her films explore issues of women's rights and human rights.


Byun Young-joo graduated with a Law degree from Ewha Womans University and did her graduate studies at the Department of Theater and Film at Chung-Ang University.

She is a founding member of the women's feminist film collective "Bariteo," which was established in 1989.[1] She worked as a cinematographer on Even Little Grass Has Its Own Name (Kim So-young, 1989), a short film about gender discrimination at work, and My Children (Doe Sung-hee, 1990), a documentary film about childcare in a poor neighborhood.[2] Her first documentary Women Being in Asia (1993) centers on the sex trade in Asia, particularly the sex tourism of Jeju Island.[3]

Byun is best known for her trilogy documenting the present and past lives of "comfort women" who were abducted and forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army in World War II. Byun's efforts have lent a significant push to the women's demands for a formal apology and compensation from the Japanese government. At the same time, the films have drawn praise for their aesthetic and emotional power.[4]

The first film in this series, entitled The Murmuring (1995), has become one of the most acclaimed documentaries in Korea's history, the first of its kind to receive a theater release in the country. Byun states that when she first contacted a group of comfort women and asked if she could film them, they refused emphatically. It was only after living together with them for one year that the director gained their trust and permission to make a film. This first documentary portrays the women leading their weekly protests at the Japanese embassy and fighting to overcome the sense of shame that has been planted within them and reinforced by an uncaring public.[4]

Habitual Sadness (1997) was initiated at the request of the women, who asked that Byun film the last days of a group member who had been diagnosed with cancer. In this film the women are seen gaining self-confidence, eventually moving behind the camera themselves to utilize the medium of film as a means of both protest and healing. In the final chapter My Own Breathing (1999), a new character is introduced, a woman who was taken forcibly into service at 14 years old. As heart-rending as the accounts of forced prostitution may be, by focusing on their present, Byun filmed details that reveal the humor and personality of these women who survive years after the wreckage of their youth. In this manner the documentaries lead the audience to see the crimes as much more than tragic abstractions, but instead witness the effect it has had on these women's lives.[4]

In Documentary of Yang Joo-nam (1998), Byun chose the director/editor (Sweet Dream: Lullaby of Death, A Mother's Love) as her subject. Yang was active in Korean cinema in the late 1930s until the late 1960s, but had lived in seclusion since then.[5]

For her feature film debut, Byun adapted the Korean novel "A Special Day That Comes Only Once in My Life" by Jeon Gyeong-rin into the erotic drama Ardor (2002), about the reinvigorating effects of an affair on a woman's previously disenchanting life.[6][7]

She then produced the documentary Koryu: Southern Women, South Korea (Kim So-young, 2001), which deals with feminine modes of expression and existence in both pre-modern and modern Korea, to construct a complex and multiple portrait of women's lives as diasporic, or "koryu": temporary living in an alien land - women living in man's land.[8] Byun was also credited as one of the cinematographers for the documentary Repatriation (Kim Dong-won, 2004), which follows two North Korean political prisoners and their decade-long struggle to return home after their release.

Her sophomore feature effort Flying Boys (2004) is a coming-of-age romance that also portrays the struggles of the lower classes and sexual minorities. Byun had her young actors take about two months of ballet classes so they could grasp the basics of the form.[7][9]

Commissioned as part of Ten Ten, the 10th anniversary project of the International Women's Film Festival in Seoul, her documentary short film The Wise Way to Remember the 20th Century (2008) is a meditation on the writings of Park Wan-suh and her legacy on the 20th century, specifically its impact on Byun as a filmmaker and other women artists of the present generation.[10]

Her most recent film Helpless (2012) is based on the Japanese novel All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe, which pivots around a young woman who suddenly disappears just a few weeks before her wedding, but also talks about contemporary problems such as private loans, bankruptcy and credit rating.[11] Byun won Best Director at the 2012 Baeksang Arts Awards and Women in Film Korea Awards, and at 2.4 million tickets sold, Helpless is her biggest box-office hit yet.[12]




  1. ^ "BYUN Young-joo". Korean Film Biz Zone. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  2. ^ Nam, In-young. "Korean Women Directors" (PDF). Korean Film Council. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  3. ^ "Women Being in Asia (Asiaeseonyeojaro-sandaneunggot) (1993)". Korean Film Archive. Archived from the original on 2012-06-12. Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Paquet, Darcy. "My Own Breathing". Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  5. ^ Cho, Ki-op. "Documentary of Yang Joo-nam". Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Retrieved 2012-10-11. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ 밀애(密愛)밀담(密談) 변영주,전경린과 스치다(1). Cine21 (in Korean). 14 November 2002. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  7. ^ a b Hartzell, Adam (29 April 2005). "An Interview with Byun Young-joo". Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  8. ^ Kwon, Eun-sun. "Koryu: Southern Women, South Korea". International Women's Film Festival in Seoul. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2012-10-11. 
  9. ^ Paquet, Darcy. "Flying Boys". Retrieved 2012-06-12. 
  10. ^ Byun, Jai-ran (10 April 2008). "The 10th Anniversary Project "Ten Ten"". The 10th International Women's Film Festival in Seoul. Archived from the original on 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  11. ^ Lee, Claire (8 March 2012). "Director explores financial, social horrors". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  12. ^ Hong, Lucia (9 April 2012). "Korean movies notch up higher number in 1Q ticket sales". 10Asia. Retrieved 2012-11-18. 
  13. ^ "Byun Young-joo Picked as Director of the Year by Female Film Critics". The Chosun Ilbo. 5 December 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 
  14. ^ Kim, Hyun-min (6 December 2012). "BYUN Young-joo Selected as the Woman Filmmaker of 2012". Korean Film Council. Retrieved 2012-12-15. 
  15. ^ Kwon, Mee-yoo (27 April 2012). "Kim Soo-hyun wins Paeksang awards". The Korea Times. Archived from the original on 2014-05-17. Retrieved 2012-12-05. 

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