This is a story worthy of a Korean TV drama. Korean dramas are well known throughout Asia with fans in many Asian locales, from Singapore to China. Korean TV dramas are very predictable, yet they remain very popular. Most Korean dramas, in my own, biased opinion, can be characterized as follows: 1) They play out in too many episodes and could be condensed into three or fewer episodes; 2) They feature too many illnesses and injuries, with serious, improbable medical conditions befalling one or more main characters; 3) They too often feature a love triangles or love quadrangles; 4) The two main protagonists obviously belong together but never end up together; 5) They end so open-ended that they always invite sequels that are never made; 5) They feature characters who are usually more attractive than the average person; 6) They feature overly meddling mothers and mothers-in-law, and 7) They tend of avoid controversial ways to change plots so often employed by American dramas, such as violence or drug abuse. Hollywood definitely is not alone in its lack of creativity. I don’t mean to sound overly critical of Korean dramas, because I know many people really enjoy them. I’ve even watched a few myself. Since I arrived in Korea, I haven’t been very motivated to watch any, because there are so many other things I find far more entertaining in the Land of the Morning Calm.
This story is worthy of being featured in a Korean TV drama. It would be original and groundbreaking, in my opinion. It has become so contentious, so controversial, and so personal that it would make an outstanding, award-winning drama. Of course, it will probably never be made because it is just too real. The story involves the contentious issue of opening of North Korea to South Korean tourism. Here is the plot summary:
The Hyundai Group’s founder, who was born in North Korea and a generous benefactor to North Korea, approached North Korea in 1990’s about opening the Hermit Kingdom to South Korean tourism. Hyundai negotiated with the North Koreans to open up Kumgangsan, North Korea to South Korean tourism. The new tour, which opened in 2000, is operated by Hyundai Asan, a subsidiary of the Hyundai Group. Initially a failure, the Kumgangsan tour became a roaring success, attracting its one millionth visitor from South Korea in June 2005. The Kumgangsan Tour now serves as the centerpiece of an effort by Hyundai to introduce South Korean tourist venues throughout North Korea, from the North Korean up to Wonson to Kaesong to Paektusan in the north.
The plot thickens. Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of Hyundai Group, is widow of former Hyundai Chairman Chung Mon-hyun, son of Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yun, both of whom committed suicide in 2002 over charges of illegally transferring $500 million to North Korea in 2000. The secret transfer occurred as part of the agreement with North Korea signed in 1999 to develop the Kumgangsan Tour. Hyun became Hyundai chairwoman after an internal power struggle between members of the Chung family. In July 2005, Hyun traveled to North Korea and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who agreed to open the city of Kaesong and Paektusan, Korea’s most revered mountain, to South Korean tourism. North Korea granted exclusive right to develop the tours to Hyundai Asan. Pilot tours to Kaesong from South Korea commenced on August 26, September 2, and September 7. The August 26 tour is historical because it represented the first time since the 1953 Korean War ceasefire went into effect that Koreans living south of the DMZ could visit Kaesong on tour. Many South Koreans involved in the tour were born and raised in Kaesong; for them, the tour was a lifelong dream fulfilled. Tourists visited Songgyungwan, a Confucian school featuring a Koryo museum, and Sonjuk Bridge, where Koryo’s Chong Mong-ju was killed in 1392 by Lee Song-gye, founder of the Chosun Dynasty. Lucky tourists also visited either Pakyon Falls or the tombs of Koryo kings Kongmin and Wanggon. In early August 2005, everything looked rosy for Hyundai Asan and the Hyundai Group.
Fast forward to the end of the month. Kim Yoon-Kyu, Hyundai’s primary negotiator with North Korea, is dismissed as CEO of Hyundai Asan by Chairwoman Hyun on charges of embezzlement. Kim was instrumental in successfully negotiating the opening of Kumgangsan. Kim was also heavily involved in setting up the pilot tours to Kaesong. In his place, Hyun named Yoon Man-joon CEO of Hyundai Asan. The North Koreans reacted angrily to Kim’s dismissal, claiming that it was a personal insult to Kim Jong Il. They insisted that Kim be reinstated as Hyundai Asan CEO. Hyun refused. North Korea responded by slashing the number of tourists allowed to visit Kumgangsan by half. Last week, North Korean officials went a step further by refusing to meet with Hyun and Yoon while they were at Kumgangsan to celebrate the opening of a new hotel and attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Kumgangsan Reunion Center for families separated during the Korean War. This week the Lotte Group, a rival chaebol (conglomerate), received an unsolicited offer to operate the new Kaesong Tour from the North Korean Asia Pacific Peace Committee, the organization charged with managing South Korea’s tourism projects. By giving the Kaesong Tour to Lotte, North Korea would trump Hyundai’s plans to solely cultivate tourism in North Korea.
And so the drama continues to unfold across the DMZ. Like a jilted lover, North Korea has turned to a new suitor, the Lotte Group, and is turning its back on longtime partner, Hyundai Asan. Aware that it cannot control Hyundai’s internal affairs and that South Korean tourism is extremely lucrative, North Korea is doing what it can to influence the situation. The final episodes of this drama have not yet been broadcast. The climax is yet to come. Stay tuned.