A Mother, Youngsoon follows a mother and son, a decade after they have escaped North Korea and immigrated to South Korea. They are merely one of around 30,000 families who have left the North to come to the South but life for the mother and son is not much better.
The mother’s name is Youngsoon. She was the one who had them move to South Korea in wake of the disappearance of her oldest son and the absence of her abusive husband. Her son, Sosa, was only seven years old and followed his mom on the journey. However, the consequences of that decision are becoming more apparent as Sosa comes of age and he struggles to adapt to living in modern Korea.
This should be a problem for Youngsoon but she prides herself in her work. At first, we see her toiling away in a food truck where she is able to offer street snacks and hot dishes to those attending the Busan Racetrack. Simultaneously, she balances working construction during the week and the food truck during the weekends. Not only does this provide her with a clear purpose but the film reveals her hope that, by providing financial stability to her and Sosa, they can find more time to connect as family. However, she soon starts to realize that, the more she works, the more she gives into his unwise spending habits and the further their disconnect seems to become.
A Mother highlights Youngsoon’s desire to bring her family out of North Korea and the consequences of putting Sosa in a situation that was not of his own choosing. The film’s separate interviews are the core of the film as Changjun Lee provokes important conversations that the mother and son feel they cannot have with each other. This is particularly true for Sosa as he has constantly felt discouraged in his pursuits and sees work more as a means to an end rather than the core of his life. The result is a lonely young man who the film follows as he drifts between friends and new acquittance’s, including a couple from a church. Sosa has a desire to try and find life outside the influence of his mother but, as an unemployed young man, he is unable to do so. With a growing resentment brewing and clashing perspectives of their relationship that only seem to worsen, Sosa moves into a vacation house that Youngsoon purchased in hoping that it would generate rental income. However, when problems with the house are discovered, the tension is heighted and the journey exemplifies a hope for the future of Korean unification through this mother and son. Nevertheless, it’s also a journey that will be fraught with scars and separate perspectives that will create an alienation between them even though they are irrevocably connected.
A Mother, Youngsoon is now playing at HotDocs ’23. For more information, click here.